By Nikhila Natarajan
New York, Sep 17 | In terms of television ad spend alone, the Joe Biden versus Donald Trump fight is coming down to half dozen battleground states while the spending gap between digital and television is swiftly reducing as political campaigns go all in to reach a multi-screen, multi-generational audience during an ongoing pandemic.
Biden and Trump have already spent $500 million on Facebook and Google ads alone, and about $1 billion on television ads, according to research by the Wesleyan Media Project which tracks political ads in election season.
A National Public Radio (NPR) analysis of the Biden and Trump campaign’s cash out shows that more than $700 million has been spent on TV ad bookings in 14 states and more than $8 of every $10 spent is going to ad buys in Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona.
The same report says the Biden-Harris campaign is spending almost 90 per cent of their money in these six states, while Trump is at a shade less than 80 per cent across the same states.
In their effort to reach younger audiences who aren’t watching television, the Biden and Trump campaigns are pumping big money into digital advertising even as television’s sway in election season is bucking doomsday predictions about its role during political peak moments.
“One big shift that we’ve seen over time that has certainly accelerated in 2020 is that young people are not watching television. They’re certainly not watching broadcast television. Everything is online or streaming,” Dr. Travis Ridout, Thomas S. Foley Distinguished Professor of Government and Policy and Director of the School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs at Washington State University told IANS.
“And so if campaigns want to talk to younger people, then they can’t just rely upon advertising on broadcast television, and so that’s why you’ve seen some of those big increases in digital advertising. That’s where you have to reach the young people.”
The lion’s share of ad spending continues to flow into broadcast television and bigger chunks towards cable television too, for its better targeting capabilities.
“There’s just more content than ever, both on TV and on digital,” Dr. Michael Franz and Dr. Travis Ridout, co-directors of the Wesleyan Media Project, said during a media briefing.
Digital’s share of total ad spending is climbing steadily. From about one per cent in 2010, it’s risen to 14 per cent by 2016 and 20 per cent in 2018. Early estimates by the Wesleyan Media Project peg digital’s share at around 27 per cent of ad spending in the 2020 race.
Negativity in ads has been playing out in plain sight. Dark themes and attack ads are trending upward, both as a share of all negative ads and negativity as a percentage of mentions in those ads.
What’s also striking in the Wesleyan data is the volume totals of the universe of political ads and attack ads in particular. About 40 per cent more ads are on TV relative to 2018 in congressional races.
“So, digital has gone up but so has television, and so that’s one of the really interesting features of this current period we’re in. There’s more of everything.”
In terms of television spends alone, the Wesleyan Media Project view is that Joe Biden’s campaign has a “pretty big advantage” over the Trump campaign. This analysis is based on ad spends across America’s 210 media markets.
The positive spin on that for the Trump campaign is that they’re really targeting specific voter groups and come Election Day those groups are going to come with them. The negative spin is they’re sending out a bunch of fundraising messages because they desperately need money to pay for TV ads.