Spending on TV ads has more than doubled over the previous presidential cycle largely driven by self-funded Democratic presidential candidates.
The 131 percent cycle-over-cycle growth in ad spending on spots that aired on national network, national cable and broadcast television is part of the reason consultants told C&E they’re seeing an “astronomical” increase in the cost of OTT and connected TV spots — particularly in New Hampshire and Iowa. The appeal of OTT/CTV is that it offers digital-level targeting but on the largest screen in a voter’s home.
In Iowa alone, $44 million has been spent on 122,815 broadcast television presidential ads. To claim the state’s spending crown, Tom Steyer has aired 37,215 spots at a cost of $11,338,623, according to a new report by the Wesleyan Media Project.
Steyer’s nearest spending rival, Pete Buttigieg, has spent $6,605,561 on 12,289 spots.
While some polls have Bernie Sanders leading in Iowa, he’s only in third in the spending race. The Sanders camp has spent $5,859,636 on 20,272 spots in the kickoff caucus state.
Joe Biden’s campaign, meanwhile, is in sixth in the TV spending race with $3,066,514 spent on 9,168 ads. Despite that low tally, Biden is still leading in many polls of Iowa Democratic caucus-goers.
On a national level, Steyer trails only Michael Bloomberg for the TV spending crown. The former New York City mayor has dropped $196,776,746 on 232,196 spots, while Steyer has spent $113,735,114 on 164,460 ads across all markets.
Overall, the Wesleyan Media Project tallies $367 million being spent on 513,437 political ads in the presidential race, “an increase of 131 percent over 2016 spending and 227 percent over 2016 ad volume.”
The dramatic increase in the number of ads run, which outpaces the increase in total amount spent, is largely thanks to Bloomberg expanding his media buying beyond the congested early-state markets and into the Super Tuesday states where he’s had less competition from rival candidates.
For context, by this point in the 2016 cycle only $159 million had been spent on 156,935 ads in the White House race. While that year saw competitive primaries on both sides, Donald Trump opted for an earned media strategy. By December 2015, he’d only spent only $217,000 on a flight of radio ads.