2016 Presidential Election Marketing Lessons



As marketers, the 2016 Election offers a dynamic view of the evolution of social media and data-driven initiatives.  Brand managers jump to the campaign trail to learn the best practices from the “the wildest and most outrageous presidential election cycle in decades,” according to Adweek While social media’s transforming role in this election needs to be addressed, is there more to know about campaign marketing for 2016?

The Media Mix for 2016 Political Campaigns

Based on the media tracking firm – Borrell & Associates “2015-2016 Political Advertising Outlook” – political advertising expenditures will increase to $11.7 billion in 2016, a 20% increase from 2014.  While Broadcast TV continues to dominate the media mix, digital spending is making tremendous gains.  See the chart below summarizing the changes in the media mix in the past three elections: 2008, 2012, and 2016.


Social Media Strategy

Campaign managers are directing more budget resources to social media due to audience growth and usage to find information on politics.  Facebook, now has 1.65 billion monthly active users, it’s up 60% from 2012.  Twitter, as well, has experienced notable growth now boosting 320 million, up from 185 million in 2012.  Social media is frequently used as a source for political news with 33% of 18-29 year olds using social media to learn about politics.

By utilizing vastly different social media strategies, campaign managers are driving constituency interest and generating donations.   Trump is using social media to bolster his media exposure and limit his ad spend, while Bernie successfully  built a donor empire based on an upsurge of passionate supporters contributing an average of $27 per donation.  Following Obama’s lead, Hillary amassed a digital infrastructure powerhouse, while Trump recently proclaimed that data is “over-rated.” Whichever digital strategy ends up helping to win the 2016 election, social media is driving voter engagement and providing valuable constituency issue-based data.

Data-Driven Ad Targeting

Programmatic Online Ad Buying

According to Adweek, “the 2016 election will be remembered as the year programmatic targeting by political campaigns came of age.” The growth of programmatic in local campaigns, as well as national has emerged with politically focused digital ad consultancies, like Targeted Victory and Campaign Grid on the right and DS Political on the left.  Data analysts at these firms match voter registration records with other data sources, to reach voters across all devices.  Demand-side platforms, DSP’s such as Rocket Fuel and Tube Mogul access ad inventory via ad exchanges, allowing the direct buying of desktop and mobile (both std. banner and video) inventory, as well as TV.

Addressable TV Ad Buying

Addressable TV has reached 40 million households (compared to Programmatic TV at 95 million households) and is being utilized as a cross device advertising tool in campaigns. Via set-top boxes, two neighbors can be targeted with different political TV ads based on their voting registrations and party preferences.  Real time tracking – rather than ratings – provide faster optimization, which is critical in a tight campaign window. In addition, Addressable TV with its’ direct mail targeting accuracy, provides follow-up via desktop and mobile.

2020 Election

Looking to 2020, data will continue to refine political campaigns and their ability to deliver more tailored communication to voters.  It will be interesting to see what format these messages will be viewed on – a digital display in your car, or on your refrigerator?

Kathleen Rogers

About the content writer:

Kathleen Rogers has a passion for research-driven content writing and has always been inspired by creative thinking.   Recently, she explored her source of inspiration by completing a second degree from USF’s Art History program.

A notable highlight from the start of Kathleen’s career, she was trained at the award winning creative shop Cliff Freeman & Partners, a subsidiary of Saatchi and Saatchi Global.  Cliff Freeman is home to famous campaigns such as Wendy’s “Where’s The Beef” and Little Caesar’s “Pizza! Pizza!”

With ten years of media planning and buying experience, Kathleen has developed strategic plans for a diverse cross section of national brands such as Celebrity Cruises, Sauza Tequila, and Hasbro/Milton Bradley, as well as regional and local brands. Kathleen has recently donated her time and energy to two well deserving organizations.  She volunteered for Brandon Regional Hospital and provided pro bono marketing plans for Brandon Sports and Aquatics Center.

In her free time, Kathleen enjoys traveling to National Parks, visiting local art exhibitions, and cheering for her energetic girls from the pool side or soccer sidelines.