The postmortems after last week’s critical primaries have spawned a wave of articles that attempt to break down each candidate’s strategy and provide commentary on how they are working the media to get out their vote.
As pundits analyze Donald Trump’s keys to success and Marco Rubio’s demise, what many of these stories have in common is a dissection of the role television and TV advertising are playing in the 2016 contests.
Recent articles on political ads going digital—usually authored by those who stand to make money off the industry—feign understanding of voter decision-making and fail to acknowledge the myriad of evidence pointing to television continuing to be the most impactful platform for influencing voters. Many of these articles also point to Donald Trump’s ability to string together primary victories while spending a fraction of other campaigns on paid media. Yet they fail to account for Trump’s massive advantage in earned media and in fact should serve as a cautionary tale for other campaigns, as Trump has been able to dwarf his rivals in terms of the combined value of free and paid media.
According to media tracking firm mediaQuant, Trump has earned close to $2 billion worth of media attention, or twice as much as the most expensive race in history. And given the airtime he has received on local broadcast, national and cable outlets, television has played a huge role in his success. It is also worth noting Trump entered the race with the established celebrity and brand awareness only television can ascribe. Given these facts, pundits advocating for political candidates to eschew television in favor of digital advertising misses the mark completely.
Taking a closer look, it’s quite easy to make the case that digital is reliant on television to drive audience. Think about how many times TV drives the activity on social media. For example, political debates aired on television often lead to spikes in social media traffic. During a Republican debate in October, a total of 196,000 tweets about the debate were generated within one hour alone.
In fact, TV is the primary medium driving voters to digital content. Impartial industry research experts including Keller Fay, GfK and Nielsen, say no other ad medium can compete with TV in voter reach and influence. An examination of the facts from recent research results demonstrates TV’s impactful role in influencing voters before they come to the booth:
- In the recent Keller Fay study, TV was listed as the primary source of information in almost half of all political conversations, with over 60 percent citing stories they heard on local news in their daily exchanges.
- When voters were asked which platform they trusted most, 84 percent of respondents said local broadcast TV, 70 percent cited cable TV while only 41 percent listed social media.
- TV is overwhelmingly ranked as the top influencer in their decision making process. According to GfK, 70 percent of respondents rated TV as the most important medium for candidate awareness and 51 percent cited TV as most important in actually influencing them to vote. TV is tops for all age groups, 35+ and A18-34.
This last fact was also reinforced by a Nielsen study that looked at registered voters in three Super Tuesday states. When asked where political ads would best be placed by campaigns to be effective, a majority of voters in each of the three states picked local TV news.
TV’s reach and impact is well-understood by the world’s largest digital companies as well. When Twitter needed to reach new users, it took to the airwaves, creating its first TV ad to run during the World Series last year. When asked about the benefit of TV ads, Twitter noted that “TV ads are credited with helping Google's Chrome rise from third-place browser to No. 1,” and hoped TV ads could help drive audiences online to their platform.
And according to political consultant David Heller, president of Mainstreet Communications, “When a campaign says they want to put 30 percent or more of their ad budget on digital I say, ‘I want to be on the other side. You put your 30 percent on digital and I’ll put my 90 percent on broadcast TV and I’ll win every time.’” Dave ought to know: he handled all the media for Rep. Collin Peterson, who represents the reddest district in the country held by a Democrat.
Digital makes for a great supplement to any media strategy and while online ad spending is valuable to campaigns, it pales in comparison to the reach and impact of local TV advertising. The 2016 election is already making history, as candidates continue to blaze their own paths – but one thing remains constant; when it comes to trust, effectiveness, and influence, local broadcast TV is king.