The Evolution of Political Advertising

November 6, 2018

By Dan Sinagoga

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The 2018 midterm elections held Tuesday, November 6, were a pivotal milestone for contested seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, and local government. Political advertising helped drive unprecedented midterm voter turnout, as 2018 ushered in a new phase in the era of data and analytics in cable TV advertising.

Historically, advertising strategies for political campaigns primarily used tried-and-true approaches for getting out the vote, focusing on mass reach via broad buys on prime time and news programming, automated calling, and direct mail.

However, in recent years, advertisers have increasingly relied on cable television. Political cable advertising has grown significantly year over year, in both total revenue and market share. In 2016, the share of political advertising on cable TV grew more than 30 percent, and sales are on track to reach approximately $850 million in 2018.

This growth stems from candidates working with telecommunications and advertising sales companies such as Comcast Spotlight, the advertising sales division of Comcast Cable. They harness new data capabilities to inform campaign advertising strategy and enable candidates to more effectively target potential voters.


Cable: Follow the Data

Over the years, marketers have become accustomed to targeting customers by age and gender, such as women 18–34 or men 35–54. The focus is now shifting from demographics to audiences to efficiently find and reach those who matter the most for election results.

For instance, cable TV enables advertisers to accurately target audience segments beyond age and gender, such as repeat voters, swing voters, or Democrats. It also gives candidates the ability to deliver messaging to certain geographic zones, like house- and senate-level congressional districts, rather than entire metropolitan areas.

This specific and localized targeting can be an invaluable tool. As the 2016 election cycle showed, swing counties in swing states often have the power to determine the outcome of a close election.

Analytics also help buyers plan campaigns by dispelling preconceived assumptions about networks and dayparts, so advertisers can maximize effectiveness and make data-informed decisions. For example, while news networks are political drivers, data shows that niche female-skewing networks such as HGTV, Hallmark, and TLC are also essential for maximizing reach among potential voters. In addition, 85 percent of cable viewing happens off the top five networks.

Data also shows that while prime time remains a strong daypart, other times are just as important. Approximately 77 percent of video-on-demand viewing is outside of prime time, showing that voters are not relegated to dayparts. Consequently, limiting time of day or networks can often mean limiting reach.

In today's fragmented video landscape, following the data with audience-focused, cable TV campaigns will drive results for political advertisers. Precision in voter targeting has never been more important.


Dan Sinagoga is the VP of political sales at Comcast Spotlight.

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