The political campaign spending engine is revving higher than ever before, with media buys in the 2019-20 cycle projected at $6 billion, according to a 2019 study by Advertising Analytics and Cross Screen Media. This projection signals an increase of nearly 60% over 2018’s political media spend.

Digital video spend is set to double

Digital video will make up $1.6 billion of the total spend, which is more than double what was allocated to the platform in 2018—and Facebook and Google will see most of the action. This is no surprise, as it has been widely predicted that video would continue to dominate the digital advertising market this year. Currently, more than 40% of American consumers watch online videos every day.

Consumers will see 2.5 million more political ads in 2020 than they did in 2018, with most being served throughout October. The first quarter of the year will also see greater ad spend than a typical campaign cycle, which is a trend unique to presidential election years. Further, presidential spending is projected to account for $2.7 billion—the largest portion of the 2020 campaign spend—and nearly 30% of that will be spent on digital video.

Election controversy spurs advertising limitations

Several digital platforms have taken action to stave off controversy such as the spread of “fake news” during previous elections. Twitter has banned politicians from sponsoring tweets “in response to growing concerns that office-seekers, government officials and their allies are too easily able to weaponize popular social media services,” The Washington Post reported recently. 

This move also limits the way advertisers and activists can promote messages around political causes on Twitter. While they’re still able to promote their broader mandates, they can no longer run ads that support or oppose a particular candidate or their policies. They also can’t target ads to audiences based on their specific political affiliations.

Spotify followed suit not long after, banning political ad content from its streaming platform. A spokesperson from the company stated, “We do not yet have the necessary level of robustness in our processes, systems and tools to responsibly validate and review this content.” However, listeners may still hear political ads in third-party content such as podcasts streamed on the platform.

While Google hasn’t completely banned political advertising, the search engine has limited the way advertisers can target audiences for these ads, including on YouTube. Advertisers can no longer target people based on political affiliation, and they no longer have access to Google’s Customer Match tool, which enables them to use email lists to target audiences more precisely. However, they can still target based on age, gender and location.

Facebook has taken a different approach to political advertising in this election campaign, giving U.S. users the option to see fewer political ads on both Facebook and Instagram, but choosing not to limit targeting for these ads. The company has been criticized for its position on the issue, but said, “ultimately, we don’t think decisions about political ads should be made by private companies.”

The broader impact of political advertising in 2020

Publishers will see benefits from increased advertising spend this year because it will create an opportunity for them to sell more inventory. “However, advertisers will be competing against political digital marketers with budgets potentially in the millions of dollars,” said Tiffany Kelly, Digital Product Manager at Lineup Systems.

There’s no doubt that political ad spend will impact inventory, rates and channels across industries throughout the year. Federal candidates are entitled to the lowest ad rates charged across traditional broadcast and cable TV in the 45 days leading up to the primaries and 60 days before the general election. This means advertisers in other industries will have access to limited inventory on these channels, and could face challenges meeting their impression and sales targets. 

According to SpotX, “digital media is not beholden to the same inventory supply conditions and FCC provisions that will affect traditional broadcast channels.” This presents an opportunity for advertisers to secure premium inventory across digital video platforms and connected television, giving them greater freedom to connect with audiences via a targeted approach.

Finally, publishers and advertisers alike will have to account for unusual advertising patterns this year due to inflated revenue across the board, and refrain from setting strategies based on election-year data.