Another Presidential election is in the books, but as usual, there are more questions than answers.
While the outcome of this closely fought race is apparent, there are many on both sides interpreting the results quite differently. The electoral map of the country appears to be sorted out, but there are millions of voices on either side still arguing about the end result.
Given the nature of our tribal culture, that's no surprise. The fact that not everything is settled, conceded, and sorted out nearly two weeks later is not surprising to anyone who's observed the body politic of the U.S. over the last many years.
But beyond some of the obvious questions about mail-in ballots and other outstanding voting controversies that may be eventually litigated by some court, we also are left with lots of fundamental questions about America's changing demographics and the ways in which political campaigns market to them.
Among them, consider the ambiguity surrounding the following issues:
- Whose “get out the vote” approach was most effective? The Trump campaign used heavily attended rallies and an extensive door-to-door effort. The Biden team relied more on conventional advertising and to a lesser extent, text and direct email. Which was most effective?
- What happened to the “Latino vote?” More to the point, is there such a thing, given the very diverse nature of this group, especially when you study results in places like Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California? To what degree did the two campaigns pull off a successful strategy?
- Why were the political polls wrong – again? What is going on with the (in)ability to get a grip on these campaigns, and why do so many pollsters especially fail to reflect the actual outcome? Is it a research problem or does it run deeper than that?
- To what degree was race a deciding issue? It was a major topic throughout the campaign, and both sides seemed to address racial politics strategically and tactically.
- What will the “body politic” look like post-Trump? Perhaps this is the biggest question. Will Donald Trump remain a key player? Will he become a mass media mogul (perhaps including radio), will he run again in 2024, and to what degree will he maintain a daily presence these next four years?
It's fascinating that while the “Election Economy” is a multi-billion dollar machine, so many questions remain that don't have obvious answers.
And because the two Georgia senatorial races are so critically important to determining the balance of the U.S. Senate, billions more will be poured into those two races that will be decided on January 5th.
There's a lot we will learn about how those last two seats were be sorted out. But, one thing we do know is that broadcast radio throughout the state of Georgia will be a primary campaign tool. Whether radio stations are licensed to the biggest city, Atlanta, or to smaller metros like Macon, Savannah, Augusta, Columbus, and others, radio should play a key role in ad spending strategies.
How do we know this?
Because radio undoubtedly was effective in forming and influencing decisions in voting that took place earlier this month (and in early and absentee voting in the weeks before).
We blogged about this back in October, largely because in recent elections, broadcast radio has frequently ended up with the short end of the political ad spending stick. It obviously helps when other media – notably television – “sells out,” leaving campaigns with fewer options so radio picks up the slack.
But we also know that especially with the Biden campaign, radio was a key part of their media strategy. I reached out to executives from that firm, and they sent me their summary of political ad spend projections from the 2020 Election. And here's the chart that jumped out at me:
Obviously, TV (listed as “Broadcast”) continues to be the runaway leader, now followed (distantly) by digital, and then cable. But on the far right, isn't it wonderful to see radio show up on this chart of political advertising spend.
Note that Advertising Analytics projects $170 million in radio ad spend during this cycle, nearly double the 2018 levels, and nearly triple what was laid out by political strategists during the Trump/Clinton election in 2016. (Some sources believe political advertising on radio was more in the $250-275 million range, thanks in large part to network buys.)
Since the origins of ad marketing, no one has been able to totally attribute cause & effect, ROI, and the net impact of specific ads. Hence, the famous quote by industry titan, John Wanamaker, more than a century ago:
But we do know this:
Biden outspent Trump in radio – by a vast margin. As of early last month, Biden was outspending the Trump campaign by 56:1 according to Advertising Analytics.
And Biden ended up winning “the most important election of our lifetime” nationally, and especially in those key “swing states” that mattered. You may recall this chart from the earlier post showing radio ad spend differences between the two campaigns.
And now we know the results of the election. I've placed red circles around the states Biden won. In all cases, he massively outspent Trump in radio, according to McClatchy:
Biden came within an eyelash in North Carolina. However, Florida – especially given the spending levels – had to be a disappointment.
Still, it's a great story for radio. And it needs to be told (regardless of your candidate of choice).
And does it answer John Wanamaker's existential question about which advertising source was most effective? Only inferentially, of course, but it makes a logical and persuasive case for broadcast radio.
Political consultants of all stripes and at all levels of government need to be reeducated about the value, efficiency, and effectiveness of radio.
And beyond politics, the 2020 Presidential campaign also speaks to the tactical power of radio advertising, as well as its ability to target key audience groups by region – Blacks, Latinos, Millennials, suburbanites, etc.
It also re-establishes radio as a player in politics, not just in the next seven weeks in Georgia, but across the political spectrum.
The story also should be an object lesson to advertisers. Politics is a zero-sum game – one winner. There's no value in coming in second or third. It is also the most vicious marketing game – harder and more complex to navigate than selling mattresses, SUVs, cell phone plans, and insurance policies.
As radio budgets for and prepares to meet the new challenges posed by 2021 and a virus that isn't going away, the industry will need every bit of ammunition necessary.
The industry needs to use its new-found political clout.
You can download Advertising Analytics' summary of political ad spend here.