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Pat Reese, Chief Media Strategist, Rooster Strategic Solutions
Media planners will face significant competition this fall from an unexpected adversary: Politicians. According to Group M, candidates and their parties will spend more than $13 billion leading up to the November general election, slightly more than what was spent during the 2020 presidential election, and more than double the total spent in the 2018 mid-terms. What’s more, contested gubernatorial and congressional races are turning key ag states into political hotbeds, including Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, and Kansas.
Thanks to a little-known piece of federal legislation called the Communications Act of 1934, politicians have a built-in advantage over other potential advertisers, including a guarantee to receive the lowest rate charged by broadcasters (including discounts and bonus spots), and the right to bump any long-term contracts and replace them with political ads, a rule called “pre-emption.” All this adds up to fewer slots, and those that are still available will come with a hefty premium.
I honestly don’t know what to expect this year. I’m confident in print and radio, but nervous about what could happen with digital. And paid social is going to be a trainwreck.
It’s probably too late to make wholesale changes to your media schedule, but here are a few recommendations we’re making to our clients to help them tweak their schedules.
Television: Don’t Bother. Politicians are dumping crazy money into local broadcast TV stations. That’s normal. What’s different this year is that nearly half of the digital ad dollars are going into Connected TV, with estimates of $300 million or more, which represents 13 percent of the total expenditures. That’s a huge increase from 2020 when CTV advertising was a tiny line item. The reason for this is simple: CTV is finally ready. The technology is there, the databases are available, and it gives candidates the ability to target the people they want with the benefits of television viewership plus digital targeting.
If you already have a spot TV schedule, it’s likely that you’re going to get bumped, especially in the battleground states. If you can reinvest the dollars, do it quickly.
Digital: Monitor and Adjust. As expected, digital is the most popular medium for politicians after television, and farmers will be specifically targeted. Your digital ads will still appear, but they’ll be relegated to less-popular and lesser-viewed spots; instead of the top of the page, expect your ads to appear at the bottom.
Other than sitting out the quarter, there’s not much you can do. We’re going back through the schedules on a county and state level, monitoring the ad performance and adjusting where we can – for instance, lightening up in Ohio and running more in Indiana and Missouri. For clients who have no choice but to fight for attention in a contested state – the Illinois Soy Association, for example – we’re talking to the publications and vendors constantly to find workarounds.
Social: Revisit Organic Opportunities. Social media is going to be much harder this year because the candidates’ budgets are going after the same audience. It’s not that ag companies are going to get bumped, as is the case with television, but it’s not likely that your messages will appear in the premium time slots. Instead of 6-8 am, 11-1 pm, or 5-8 pm, you can expect your ads to run from 9 to midnight.
One option we’re looking ad is amping up organic social and taking a break on paid social until after the election. Preach to the choir, right? Social dollars can also be reinvested into direct communication via e-mail or texting.
Radio: A Hidden Gem? Political radio spending is down significantly as parties look for hyper-targeted options. That’s good news for ag companies, and those who haven’t made radio a priority should do it yesterday, because it works. Ag networks like Farmakis and Brownfield should be safe; local advertising will require a lot more diligence, especially in those areas with hotly contested elections.
In short, navigating through the upcoming election will take more time and more planning in order to be effective and with manageable costs. But it’s not impossible. Should you need any short-term help creating a robust, multi-media plan, I’d love to have a conversation.