Online Political Ad Spend to Boom, Still Dwarfed by TV

March 9, 2012

borrell-politicalad-spending-bymediashare-2008v2012-mar2012.jpgOnline political ad spending for this year’s elections is forecast at about $160 million, representing a huge increase from an estimated $22.2 million spent online for the 2008 elections, according to a Borrell Associates report released in March 2012. Even so, online is forecast to account for only 1.5% share of total political spending this year, with broadcast TV accounting for easily the largest share of total spending, at more than 57 cents of every dollar spent.

Overall, spending on political ads is forecast to rise over 40% from an estimated $7 billion in 2008 to $9.8 billion this year. According to data from the Sunlight Foundation, as reported by Slate Magazine, spending may contribute to a more divisive political climate. According to the report, as of March 5, 2012, 54% of all Super PAC spending has been on opposition, mostly for attack ads against other candidates.

Cable TV Spending to Double

Meanwhile, political ad spending on cable TV is forecast to double from $468 million in 2008 to $939 million this year, increasing its share of total dollars from 6.7% to 9.5% in the process. This appears to be a wise investment: according to a Pew Research Center survey released in February 2012, cable news networks rank as the top source of political campaign information among Americans, with 36% saying they regularly get their political campaign news from this source.

Although ad spending on broadcast TV is forecast to rise 30% from $4.3 billion to $5.6 billion, broadcast TV will see a measurable decrease in share of total spending, from 61.9% to 57.3%. This shift from broadcast to cable may be explained by voter preferences: according to a Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau survey released in March, when asked to select which they prefer to receive information about national candidates and issues, voters overwhelmingly favored cable over broadcast for awareness (71% vs. 29%), keeping up to date (70% vs. 30%), and influencing their final voting decisions (72% vs. 28%).

Overall, TV is forecast to account for roughly two-thirds of all political ad spending this year. And, according to the CAB, 61% of registered voters will notice these ads (see link above).

Newspaper Ad Spend Share to Decrease

Aside from direct mail (25.4%), newspaper is predicted to have the smallest increase in spending this year, rising 28.1% to about $700 million, meaning that its share of total political ad spending will drop from 7.8% to 7.1%. This is despite recent survey results from the Newspaper Association of America, suggesting that political candidate ads appearing in local newspapers are annoying to the least amount of voters (18%), while ads appearing on local TV (54%), network TV (50%), and cable TV (43%) are annoying to the most.

Targeted Display Ad Spending to Surge

borrell-online-political-ad-spending-by-category-mar-2012.jpgData from Borrell Associate’s “Political Advertising: The Flood of 2012” indicates that targeted display ads, including social media ads, will make up 30% of online ad spending this year. In fact, Borrell predicts spending on this category to more than triple from 2010 to reach $47.4 million.

Paid search is expected to account for 32.6% share of total online political ad spending, at $55.1 million, while streaming video is predicted to hold 22% share. Losing share from 2010 will be e-mail (11.2% vs. 21.9%), ROS display (2.8% vs. 6.2%), and streaming audio (1.5% vs. 2.2%).

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