The Political Shift to Digital First Ad Spending

Everyone knows that the 2016 Presidential election made history in more ways than one. Most people focus on the victory of a business man, or the fact that this was the first election in history with a female party nominee. But one important element to mention is the dramatic shift in the channels of political campaign ad spending, especially compared to the 2012 election.

An article released in Media Life Magazine, “Post-Trump, political ad spending won’t be the same”, Toni Fitzgerald discussed some important ad spending stats from the 2016 election.

“Total political ad spending hit $9.8 billion, up slightly from $9.4 billion four years ago. The numbers include a huge shift in where money was spent. Broadcast TV made up 57.9 percent of spending four years ago but just 44.7 percent this year. Digital spending, meanwhile, increased almost eightfold, from a 1.7 percent share to a 14.4 percent share.”

Hillary Clinton used a more traditional ad spending strategy with primary focus on mass media through traditional channels. Her political team spent more than $400 million compared than Donald Trump, and fell short in the race.

And it comes as no surprise that recently inaugurated President Trump does things a little differently. This held true to his nontraditional ad spending plan that focused on target audiences, instead of advertising to the mass media. The Trump campaign team used their knowledge of the voters to work in their favor with proper ad spending on non-traditional channels. Resulting in a victory to become the 45th President of the United States.

Although this shift in spending was completed on a national level, all advertisers can learn from Trump’s campaign ad spending strategy. Read more for our key takeaways from the President’s ad spending strategy and how local campaigns can make the shift to improve their ad spending for years to come.

The growth of digital spending

Digital spending is growing at an exponential rate as it provides several benefits.

With Trump’s team leading this important shift to digital, it is expected to see online and digital ad spending to increase for years to follow. In the article “Data-Drive Targeting Created Huge 2016 Political Ad Shift: Broadcast TV Down 20%, Cable and Digital Way Up” , Kate Kaye states:

“The political ad numbers reflect the broader trend being played out across the advertising landscape — use of data to target audience segments and make smarter media buys in new (digital) and older media (direct mail and cable) is taking over.”

You must be willing to go where the audience is, and there is no denying that almost everyone is online. But it is important that you dive deeper to understand what channel(s) your audience uses online. Once those channels are identified, you can craft a relevant message that your audience can relate to. And with the ability to narrowly target any given audience, campaigns can push the right message to the right people on the right channel. Making it possible to craft more than 1 message when advertising to a diverse target audience.

A more focused way of advertising

Let’s start by taking a look at the 2016 Presidential election.

With an endless amount of data on voters, both candidates knew the individuals who were for, against, and in-between the 2 candidates. It was this data that allowed Trump to advertise to specific niche markets digitally. Through digital advertising, he didn’t waste money on those who already decided to vote the other way. Instead, he focused solely on his supporters and those who were in-between both candidates.

Through digital, you can create a custom audience to target specific voters. These lists can be broken down into smaller groups based on interests, beliefs, geographic location, and more. So once you know your target audience, digital advertising provides the ability to share multiple messages to a variety of audiences.

Even more so, once a campaign knows the primary voters, you can identify “look-a-like” audiences with digital advertising. By using geo-fencing technology, location history, and mobile activity, you can find and establish other voters who are similar to your primary voter list.

So in the end, whatever niche market, or issue voter, you want to reach, it is possible to reach them and others similar to them through digital advertising

The importance of integrated campaigns

Although digital is the upcoming trend for political campaigns, this is not to say it’s time to throw in the towel for traditional advertising channels. Through an integrated strategy of traditional, direct mail, and digital advertising, you can drive voters to a logical marketing funnel to achieve the campaign’s primary goals.

And this is where marketing automation comes into play. Marketing automation helps the campaign team to stay in front of a voter, so they don’t fall out of the marketing funnel before voting day. Once you establish an interested voter, you can send them customized messages to ensure an efficient voter outreach program.

So by using traditional, digital, and marketing automation, you have the opportunity to stay in front of voters at all stages of the election season.

The do-it-yourself mentality

With digital advertising, campaigns can buy digital ads directly on the platform. There is no need to use a large advertising agency as a middle man to get ad spots across various channels.

But don’t get completely swept up in the do-it-yourself mentality! Instead, campaigns need to find a trusted digital strategist to help recommend and plan the best channels for the messaging. This digital strategist also helps to build a custom audience with focused targeting to ensure that the campaign dollars are well spent.


Digital is on the rise and will continue to grow for years to come. And digital spending is not just for national campaigns! Local campaigns can see the same benefits as national campaigns with targeting of local voters.

Through a more focused way of advertising, you get the opportunity to reach the right audience, at the right time, on the right channel, and in the right way.

So why aren’t you using digital advertising to its full potential? Give us a call to talk to a digital marketing specialist about how we can help you strategize to spend your ad dollars more efficiently.


a free consultation

Would you like to speak to one of our experts? Just submit your contact details and we’ll be in touch shortly. You can also email us if you prefer that type of communication.