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Media Zone: How to Win the DRTV Media Wars in an Election Year

1 Feb, 2012 By: Peter Koeppel Response


One outcome of our country’s divisive political discourse is that the money spent on television advertising escalates with each political season. Candidates, major parties and political action committees (PACS) could combine for an estimated $3.2 billion during the current election, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group. To put this in perspective, according to eMarketer, the total annual TV ad spend is forecasted at $64.5 billion, so the impact of political advertising is about 5 percent of inventory.

However, this advertising tends to be concentrated in time periods running up to the elections, so it can represent a greater percentage of total inventory that is available during a given period. And, the $3.2 billion projected is up nearly 48 percent from the $2.1 billion spent in the 2008 presidential election cycle. All of which suggests that, when it comes to charting a course out of the so-called Great Recession, divergent opinions translate into a free flow of money.

It is a phenomenon that will impact DRTV advertisers since time periods are purchased on a preemptible basis. Thanks to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines, television broadcast stations and networks are required to sell airtime to candidates at the lowest unit charged during the 45 days before a primary, and in the 60-day period before a general election.

This impacts the amount of inventory left over for non-political advertisers, and the “lowest” rates typically creep up as much as 15 percent to 20 percent. This is why it’s imperative that advertisers have a sound plan of action and partner with a proactive media agency. Here are three major things to consider during the coming months:

  • Plan Media Around the Elections. The 2012 season will encompass 33 U.S. senate and 435 congressional races, 11 gubernatorial contests, various state legislature competitions, and the election for the presidency. Plan your local broadcast media buys around staggered local elections, avoiding markets that will be impacted by the influx of political dollars. Even local advertisers should consider a national cable buy if they are going several markets deep because once you are in a handful of markets, there are certain economies of scale to be had by going coast-to-coast. Obviously you would not want to do this if the positive aspects are out-weighted by the negative, such as state regulatory issues. Further, long-form DRTV is not impacted nearly as much as short-form. Yes, there is the occasional political use of infomercials, such as 2008’s “Obamamercial,” but the time for marketers to consider infomercials as a way to circumvent the short-form bottleneck is now!
  • Steady Wins the Day. If you are a quarterly or annual DRTV advertiser, you should schedule media well in advance of an election cycle. This may seem counter to the idea of booking one or two weeks at a time to optimize results, but here is the rationale: If you are a consistent advertiser who commits to a station or network, week or month in and out, the traffic department that schedules the commercials is far more likely to be kind to you. Translated that means that when a short-term advertiser comes in, and all things are slightly unequal — like, say, the short-term advertiser is offering something slightly more — your long-term commitment will win the day.
  • Get Real. Clearance will be challenging and two-minute spots will be especially difficult to secure, so DRTV campaigns that are multichannel drivers or lead generation and can live with 60 seconds, are more likely to air. You’ll be able to achieve your objectives by accomplishing what DRTV does best: create differentiation for your product or service to generate quality prospects and close sales over the phone, online and at mass retail, fueled by awareness of your offering’s superiority.

Even though this media landscape may seem especially challenging, consumers may discover a clever pitch for an innovative product or service to be a refreshing change of pace. There is opportunity in every market, and advertisers that choose partners wisely may buck the trend, and get consumers to vote “aye.”


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