A Look at 2020 Presidential Election Spending and Where It’s Going

The 2016 election ushered in a new era for political advertising, with candidates capitalizing on free media coverage and putting a heavy emphasis on social media marketing. As the 2020 presidential election grows closer, candidates from both parties are continuing to spend their advertising budgets in new ways to gain and keep attention from Americans of all age groups. 

In an age where having a strong personality is more powerful than a political agenda, how do candidates reach their audience? We’re taking a deep look into the 2020 candidate ad spend to put it into perspective.

Where are Current Candidates Spending and What is it Doing for Them?

Snapchat, Facebook, Google. These are the major three digital platforms being invested in so far in the 2020 elections. Of all the Democratic candidates, Pete Buttigieg’s digital strategy has been the most surprising, as well as effective. Many look to how Bloomberg is spending millions more than his competitors on advertising space, setting spending records and allocating his investments based on suggestions from his fans and assume his presence will stand above that of his competitors, but it hasn’t. Polls are still listing him far behind Sanders, Biden, Warren, and Buttigieg. It’s not about the amount you’re spending, it’s about where you spend it and what you say once you’re there.

Buttigieg is using a strategy well-known in marketing called hyper-targeting. He’s opted to reach out through Facebook and Snapchat to a very specific audience in a very specific way. This is seen again in his YouTube and television advertisements which are aimed at very significant local points for the states he’s hoping to win.

When looking at the results so far, it’s staggering. Just a few weeks ago, the frontrunners were strongly Biden, Sanders, and Warren; but the Iowa Primaries are telling a different tale. Due to the highly tailored messaging strategy embraced by the Buttigieg team, he’s come in first in the Iowa primary closely followed by Sanders with Warren just ahead of Biden.

While not a current frontrunner, Andrew Yang also has an interesting campaign story. Most of his recognition comes from podcast interviews and internet memes. This makes his target market young millennials and the older members of Gen X.

As he gained traction and funding, he then began investing in more common campaign mediums such as TV and Facebook. Even after his promising start though, his campaign was rated at a .2% return on spending. While Yang’s ad spending was higher than both Biden and Warren, these expenditures did not translate into votes. 

So what went wrong? Some experts believe the error was in the ads themselves. That Yang had become popular due to his Universal Basic Income plan, but that his advertisements barely mentioned it. It just goes to show that no matter what you spend, how and what you say makes a huge difference in your overall success.

Do the Iowa Primaries Matter?

On top of the high amount of delegates in Iowa, these primaries are the first we get to see how people are actually voting. Polls are one thing but when push comes to shove, how people vote is all that really matters. So what have the current frontrunners done, from a strategic standpoint, that has set them apart? In-depth audience targeting.

When looking to market anything, your audience is everything. Even more important than understanding where audience members are is connecting with them at an emotional level, and tailoring advertising efforts to reflect this. For example, Sanders is targeting the unhappy millennials who feel cheated by the system and are looking to change it.

To this end, his messages don’t include fluff, they don’t talk about where he is or how great certain states are, they talk about the facts of his platforms. The majority of his ad spending is mostly on television and Facebook rather than Snapchat or Google. His team knows who his audience is, when they’re listening, and what they’re listening for. 

But What About Trump?

In everything there are exceptions. When it comes to marketing, Trump has proven to be one of them. As an already famous person, he had his own platform entering the 2016 race. This part is similar to Nixon, however, what he did with this notoriety sets him apart from any predecessor as well as most that could be running with a similar background.

Unlike others in the race, Trump used free publicity to his advantage. In the months leading up to the election, television, radio, and other traditional print publications were running stories almost every day on Trump’s unconventional views. All this coverage meant he didn’t have to spend as much getting his name and platforms in front of voters.

As this continued, his campaign gained momentum at a fraction of the normal cost. This is a campaign advantage he still uses today with the notoriety of the President as the foundation of his platform.

The Importance of Reaching an Audience

No matter who you’re rooting for, communications strategy is everything. And great audience connections start with a deep market understanding. By basing all of your messages and their placements on a solid base of consumer knowledge, you can resonate deeply with your target audience.

This is a large part of why some big election campaigns fail while others, even less funded ones, can come out on top. It’s all based on how you reach your audience and why. And this mentality branches into every single consumer market out there.

Whether it’s a political stance or a product you’re trying to sell, connecting with your audience on their terms in a genuine way is the most important key to success in today’s noisy market.