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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign has spent $0 on television advertising, while the campaign of his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, has spent roughly $52 million. Trump is even being outspent by the Green Party’s Jill Stein, as well as the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson.
Research shows that TV is still the dominant destination for political ad spend, but perhaps Trump is simply relying on the constant influx of free media he is getting.
TV ads endorsing Trump have run, but they are coming from super PACs supporting the Republican nominee rather than from the campaign itself. To date, Trump, pro-Trump PACs and advocacy groups spent a total of $30 million on presidential campaign ads for TV and radio. Breaking it down, $18.3 million was spent on broadcast TV ads, $8.3 million was spent on cable TV ads, $1.7 million was spent on radio ads and $1.7 million was spent on satellite TV ads, according to Advertising Age and Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG). On most of these media, spending in support of Trump is only about 5% of the total for all presidential campaigns.
To compare, Clinton, pro-Clinton PACs and advocacy groups have spent $237.4 million in total on US presidential campaign ads for radio and TV. Spending was clearly a lot more significant than on Trump’s campaign, particularly on TV advertising. In fact, $173.8 million was spent on broadcast TV ads, $46.3 million was spent on cable TV ads, $11.1 million was spent on radio ads and $6.2 was spent on satellite TV ads.
Political TV advertising is an essential part of every election season, and this year, digital political ad spending will skyrocket. Indeed, US political ad spending on digital is estimated to nearly quadruple compared to 2014, per data from financial services group Nomura Securities. Broadcast TV makes up the largest share of US political ad spending, and in 2016, the channel is estimated to account for $6.06 billion of political ad spending, or 59.4% of the total.
Additionally, cable TV, which makes up the second-largest share, is projected to account for $1.10 billion this year, or 10.8% of total US political ad spend.
The fact that Trump is not spending anything on television could change that, of course—and could hurt his campaign. Research from advertising technology company Fluent surveyed US registered voters and asked them about the types of marketing they had seen for 2016 presidential candidates in the past week. More than half of respondents said they saw TV ads in support of Clinton, while in contrast, 45% said they saw TV ads in support of Trump. Even across other types of marketing, including digital ads, as well as various social ads, respondents saw more types of marketing endorsing Clinton than Trump.
Clinton is not just running TV ads in swing states; she also has a national TV buy that’s currently running during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. According to reports, Clinton’s campaign spent $13.6 million on NBC and its affiliates to advertise during Olympics coverage. Trump hasn’t spent a dime to advertise throughout this year’s Summer Games.
Trump’s campaign is likely not spending anything on TV advertising because he’s taking advantage of the earned media he is getting, thanks in large part to his attention-grabbing statements. And he’s using free platforms like social media to promote his views.
Nonetheless, advertising during such a big event can bolster a political candidate’s presence. For example, in both 2008, during the Beijing Olympics, and again in 2012 during the London Olympics, President Obama spent a significant amount of money on airtime during the games. The Republican nominee at the time, John McCain, made a $6 million Olympic ad buy for the Beijing Olympics. And there was a pro-Romney super PAC that launched a campaign on behalf of 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney that ran during the 2012 London Olympics.
Though there are many political ad formats that can influence voting behavior, TV is still the most effective, January 2016 data from Kelly Scott Madison (KSM) and ORC International revealed. Some 28% of millennials said that TV ads were very, or extremely effective, in influencing their voting behavior. A quarter of Gen Xers and 19% of baby boomers felt the same way.
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