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As the coronavirus pandemic eclipses all other news stories, presidential candidates have slowed their campaign efforts and advertising spend, according to Adweek.
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During the week of March 17, total ad spending from Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders reached approximately $1.7 million per candidate — a significant drop from the respective $7.8 million and $9.5 million in the week prior.
In particular, both candidates are pulling back hard from TV, as neither has run a television ad — in any market — since March 17, according to Advertising Analytics. With most of the remaining primary elections delayed, both candidates will likely conserve the majority of their remaining advertising budgets until further notice.
If the pandemic continues through the summer, aggregate campaign spending will change in two major ways:
- Shifts in media consumption habits during the quarantine will likely guide campaign spending more toward digital. The pandemic has shut down traditional canvassing and outreach efforts for both campaigns, and thereby weakened the efficacy of out-of-home advertisements, radio, town halls, and public rallies. Moreover, people are spending significantly more time on social media and with streaming services for news and entertainment. The resulting impact will likely lead campaigns and other politically affiliated groups like PACs to shift an even greater share of campaign budgets to social media and search advertisements — and possibly even CTV ads.
- President Donald Trump may spend less than expected due to extensive media coverage and challenges with messaging. The President’s reelection campaign still holds over $94 million in cash on hand, compared with Joe Biden’s $12 million, and Bernie’s $18 million — but how much of that he spends may be contingent on the duration of the pandemic. While the other candidates can go negative on the President’s handling of the situation, Trump may face barriers self-promoting during a national crisis as it could be considered tone-deaf. Moreover, Trump may also have less of an incentive to spend on advertising as his regular and well-publicized coronavirus briefing provides him with a significant amount of earned media, which seem to be relatively well-received so far: Trump’s averaging polling numbers have increased since early March, according to FiveThirtyEight.
As the onset of a recession leads to a reduction in advertising across the private sector, platforms and networks will likely become especially dependent on political ads in the latter half of 2020. In 2020, ad revenue for linear TV is especially at risk due to the recent loss major sports leagues like the NBA as well as the Summer Olympics — ad revenue for traditional “linear” media is now projected to shrink almost 12% in 2020, per revised Magna estimates cited by Variety.
Networks and other advertising mediums will feel significant pressure to make up for these losses. To that end, while political advertising will also see a pullback, it could hold up comparatively well: Magna has also revised down its overall media sales projection by 2.8%, and stated the reason it did not revise its projection down any further was due to an expected surge in political ad spending come this fall. The net impact of this dependency on political ad revenue will likely result in an even more saturated media environment, in what is already expected to be a competitive election.
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