Political Advertising Implications for Brands

The pandemic’s impact on advertising budgets and strategy has been significant over the last several months, causing understandable and cautious shifts as brands navigate the evolving landscape. And while COVID continues to disrupt life as we knew it before, we can’t forget about another looming factor that will impact our media and economic climate – the U.S. presidential election.

Now that we’re in the political advertising window (September 4 – November 3, 2020), what do advertisers need to be aware of and consider in regard to their media strategy?

In this article, we’ll provide research and insights from our team on how the next couple of months could be impacted by political advertising.

When approaching this topic, we started with the IDEA framework, as we do with other Mindstream Media Group strategies.

IMMERSE: We looked to the past and what we know about the current climate.

DEFINE: We explored the importance of assigning value to media. If you didn’t measure it, did it even happen?

EXECUTE: We determined how quickly media can be launched or pulled, should an opportunity or threat present itself.

AMPLIFY: We summarized what we believe it takes for brands to win during political advertising season.

The Political Media Landscape

Political investments are expected to surpass $6 billion easily and could reach as high as $10 billion. That means there may be media supply issues, which would likely impact cost and also our decision to pursue certain media channels for our clients.

Let’s talk about what that means for our investment in media.

Digital CPMs

Looking at the last four years of data on digital CPMs – starting with the 2016 presidential election, there’s been a steady rate increase representative of inflation, more advertisers investing in digital and more digital placements and sites available.

2016 Presidential Election Window

During the election window in 2016, the first week of October showed a spike in digital CPMs. That was, of course, the week of the contentious second debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and the same time that a controversial news story broke about Trump. Average CPMs were higher during this week than during the actual election week in November.

Election Year V. Not

Of course, we can’t just look at one year – we have to compare October/November CPMs to non-election years as well. There are certain correlations between CPM and election windows, but why is that? The short answer is, more news drives more consumption, which increases demand, which in turn, increases ad price.

What’s the lesson here? Large news events leading up to the election window itself, even weeks out, have just as much or even more bearing on media impact. We can’t predict when the next leak or big story will happen, but we can prepare for it.

Television is Similarly Uncertain

Similar to digital, we’ve already begun to see political TV spend take off, but spending projections are all over the board. Political spending is always fairly uncertain, which in 2020 will ring especially true.

According to Kantar research, Broadcast TV and National Cable projections for 2020 range from $1.5 billion (if following the 2016 trend) up to $5 billion (if following the 2012 trend). That’s a huge projected range, but in general, we can expect a five to ten percent increase in TV CPMs.

2020 Political Spending on Video

2020 spend on TV advertising alone is projected to be 88 percent higher than during the 2016 presidential election and 30 percent higher than the 2018 midterm election.

Streaming video is shaping up to be the future of political advertising. With multiple platforms, better geographic and demographic targeting and huge, consistently growing viewership, 2020 spend has more than doubled since 2018. This year, digital video is on par with the 2016 broadcast level, and we can only expect to see it rise exponentially for the next election year.

A Political Election, in COVID Conditions

Think of all the major events cancelled this year – events that would have drawn media dollars from the world’s largest brands. It’s important to know that the channels with limited availability (like broadcast TV and radio) will be under even more pressure during this window, given the revenue catch-up game in play. Remember that projected TEN BILLION DOLLARS?

Remarkably, our research shows that from a political media buying perspective, only two channels were seriously injured by COVID: out-of-home (OOH) and experiential. This was for obvious reasons, too – we were asked to stay in our homes and of course, not experience anything, with anyone. In a typical election year, OOH and experiential ads are a large part of political campaigns, but since there are less drivers on the road, initially due to shelter-in-place orders and now due to the work-from-home boom, billboards aren’t as much of a priority.

It’s a shame not many will actually see this billboard – that’s good creative!

While OOH also includes bus shelters, benches, elevators, airport terminals, transit stations, cabs, buses, gyms, movie theaters, shopping centers, etc. in addition to billboards – those are also ALL locations where there’s been a huge decrease in foot traffic, and in turn, less eyeballs likely to see the advertising message.

Experiential marketing was the hardest hit, as political events and rallies were postponed or cancelled due to COVID restrictions. And although the candidates have shifted those in-person events to online events, both attendance and audience engagement have suffered tremendously.

What Will We Get for Our Investment?

Sales data is powerful. If you can’t measure it, did it really even happen?

Now more than ever, media must fight harder to break through all the noise, especially during the airing of political ads. It’s critical to measure what we get from that fight. With a hospital client, for example, we developed a growth formula – the “what would have been if it weren’t for COVID” scenario. We couldn’t have arrived at this formula without key revenue data from the client. From this, we developed a strategy to directly target the “backlog,” those looking to have elective procedures performed.

And if that’s not hard enough, per FCC regulations, political ads get precedence, meaning other advertisers could get bumped.

COVID has impacted sales in a huge way for many brands and clients, and this example illustrates a strategy aimed at recovering revenue lost to facility closures – which could not have been enacted without the sales data to inform the strategy.

Agility is Key During a Political Window

The good news is, we have options, but they require an agile planning and buying workflow from the beginning. Select digital tactics offer alternatives in short order. For example, a TV alternative may be connected TV, while for radio it may be podcasts or streaming audio.

As an agency, we have ideal and emergency campaign setup windows outlined, and while more lead time is always better, the takeaway is that we can move fast or shift channels if we need to. Agility is key.

General Election Basics

As we enter the 2020 general election window, keep these political advertising basics in mind. They affect all types of media and all advertisers.

  • Candidates (federal, state and local) can purchase ads at the lowest unit rate given to any political advertiser.
  • Media stations can limit political inventory, but also must provide reasonable access to it.
  • All dayparts must be made available.
  • Stations can limit or exclude inventory in news programs.

How Brands Can Win (or, Not Lose)

With the volatility of the political advertising season, some brands may choose to avoid October altogether. With the right strategy (and media partner) though, the volatility can be minimized and planned around. Some considerations include having one strategy for “toss-up” states versus “safe” states, diversifying the media mix to plan for political preemptions and adopting an agile reinvestment plan to create flexibility.

Takeaways to consider:

  • All media will be affected by political ads.
  • A state-by-state or regional variation in media strategy must be taken into account versus a national campaign.
  • Agility is key in navigating the political advertising season.
  • A media partner with nationwide buying power combined with local market expertise is a brand’s best bet to maximize efforts.
  • Embrace a multi-channel approach to reinforce your message.

In this ever-critical lean-burning time where media is under increased scrutiny, it’s important for us to show that a brand’s media mix is effectively reaching the target audience. Building agility into the strategy will help our clients win.

[Video]: Accelerating Sales with Shopper Marketing

The daily pressure on CMOs to move their business forward is real, intense and not going away. The challenge to improve media effectiveness, develop a better strategy and grow the brand is a daunting one, but with the help of a partner like Mindstream Media Group, it can be overcome and even celebrated.

So how do we help our clients accelerate sales and grow?

In this episode of Fast-Forward the Conversation, Marie Zanderson, Director of Digital Media, discusses how our unique perspective framed a different strategy for shopper marketing techniques to elevate a CPG brand beyond the high tide of the COVID-19 cleanliness craze. View the case study here.


Catch the Highlights

  • The client was working with another media partner placing broad, national digital advertising. This created an opportunity for us to showcase the true efficacy of the media and answer the question, “Is my media working?” We redirected the strategy by creating a contained, controlled environment that allowed us to measure what their media was driving and how it was being received by consumers. We selected several specific DMAs on which to focus media delivery, to be able to measure against unexposed markets and see what happened in those areas.
  • This is one of our favorite case studies now in terms of measurable lift. We had an A market, a B market and a control market and tested different partnerships to find the ratchet that would increase sales. By the end of Q4, we had some really great momentum going into the first quarter. We were looking forward to spring cleaning, which is like their typical “holiday season” in terms of sales.
  • The first step in the progression path from Q4 into Q1 2020 was to expand the number of test markets. In Q4, we were testing 25 DMAs, and in Q1 2020, that was expanded to 50. By the time we reached their peak season (spring cleaning) we had already grown their footprint into more markets. We were able to measure the impact of spring cleaning and the impact of expanding to more DMAs. We were stretching the budget a little thinner, but reaching more DMAs was still effective.
  • COVID was like a high tide that raised all ships for cleaning products, but we used shopper marketing techniques with prime retailers including Target, Home Depot, Kroger and Wal-Mart as an accelerator. Typically, we work with retailers in a managed service capacity. The retailer develops and runs the campaign then provides reporting 6 weeks after it ends – kind of a black box. But in this instance, the retailer’s shopper team came to us for help distilling the performance. They now have portals that allow our media managers to run the campaigns. We manage the media on some direct shopper sites and allow the retailers to continue to manage others. This was a big win because it allowed us to use their product knowledge to increase bids, look at audience segments and extrapolate second party data into our display DSPs.
  • Due to increased demand for the client’s product as a result of COVID, it was out of stock for a period of time. But by managing the campaign ourselves, we were able to time our efforts to correspond with when the product was back on the shelves. Not only did we see a slow uptick when COVID hit, but we saw a giant spike when the in-house shopper program was added.
  • We’ve been able to sustain these efforts at a very positive return on ad spend (ROAS). It’s still trending/aggregating at 500 percent ROAS thanks to our team’s ability to manage the campaign and bump up when applicable and dial back as well when needed.


See the next episode, Utilizing Data to Gain Efficiencies and Uncover Opportunities.

Marketing Insights to Navigate the Coronavirus Pandemic – Weekly Recap of News You Can Use

Week of April 20, 2020


Greetings from the home office.

As the COVID-19 chaos continues to create challenges for businesses across the map, there are beginning to be a few bright spots. Consumer confidence and spending have seen a slight increase thanks to stimulus checks and the anticipation of stay-at-home orders being lifted.

But, a marketer’s work is never done. Brands continue to find new ways to pivot their products and services to remain relevant, reallocate budgets and adjust marketing strategies and media buys. Those that remain steadfast with timely solutions and maintain an empathetic connection with their customers are more likely to be remembered and reap the long-term benefit of increased customer loyalty. To help you stay current and aid in your strategy development, below is this week’s roundup of insightful content.

Content Roundup

How has media consumption changed in face of COVID-19? Here’s a look at what people are doing during this period of isolation at home. Media consumption has vastly increased, and not surprisingly, it differs by generation. People are relying on their devices to “inform and distract,” which is creating an increasing opportunity for marketers to engage this captive audience. Learn more.

Local news is spiking, the top five video streaming services are up and radio and digital audio have maintained their listener base. A Nielsen expert discusses these points plus the effect on revenue for brands cutting their media spend during the pandemic. Learn more.

Pessimism and stories of economic gloom have dominated in recent weeks, but there are now increasingly hopeful signs for marketers including positive consumer sentiment, an uptick in online spending and increased marketing activity designed to propel brands through the rebound. Learn more.

Source:  CivicScience

As businesses are gearing up for a post-pandemic world, they must consider five areas that will shape their strategy: position, plan, perspective, projects and preparedness. This article from Harvard Business Review presents many questions to help guide brands’ planning initiatives. Learn more.

We all know content is critical for SEO success, but how can your brand stand out in a sea of “coronacontent”? What type of content should you be creating now and how do you prepare for the post-coronavirus future? There’s no simple answer, but here’s what digital marketing experts had to say in an interview with Greg Sterling. Learn more.

Although it’s a tumultuous period, now is the perfect time for brands to learn from consumers’ new purchasing habits and online behaviors and refine their customer experience strategies accordingly. Learn more.

Brands are trying to determine what changes they need to make now and moving toward the future to stay relevant, stay in business and ultimately grow despite this crisis. Here are four ways companies are pivoting their offerings, budgets and strategies due to COVID-19. Learn more.

We hope you’ve found our compilation insightful. Stay safe and if you haven’t already, subscribe to our blog to get next week’s roundup delivered straight to your inbox.

New Video Creation Tool Launches for SMB Owners

In late February, Vimeo announced their new video editing tool, Vimeo Create, has officially been released on desktop, Android and iOS apps. Vimeo Create hopes to help small to midsize businesses create high quality, affordable videos to use for social media marketing campaigns.

Vimeo Create Pro

Users can download Vimeo Create and use their wide range of “smart” editing tools and video content; however, the purchase of a monthly subscription will be needed in order to save and share created videos. Vimeo Create boasts unlimited stock video, a growing template library and the ability to upload videos in every social media format and ratio.

Vimeo Create is designed to integrate your existing media marketing, such as CRM or e-commerce, while connecting Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and more. Vimeo has also included features to help businesses that have dedicated project teams. Using Create Pro, collaborators can invite team members to add time-coded comments inside of the video while working on a presentation.

Who Is This For?

Video is now an essential piece of social media marketing. Prior to the launch of this new tool, Vimeo surveyed 1,000 small business owners and reported that 22 percent of them believed that they currently use enough video in their marketing strategies. Vimeo is offering a free trial of Vimeo Create and plans to add more editing components and templates as the year progresses. With this tool priced at $20 per month, Vimeo Create is perfect for small businesses that have limited budgets for video creation.