Report: Local TV ads had biggest effect on 2012 election


TVB / Television Bureau of AdvertisingJack Poor, the TVB’s VP of Political Research and Analysis, has issued a statement and supporting research based on TVB’s analysis of the 2012 Presidential Election that says just that—along with the fact that last year, local TV stations captured over 80% of total television spending in the political category.

“This is the post-election, pre-inauguration season when we have the final media spending data to help us analyze which campaign marketing services and advertising platforms had the greatest effect on the outcome of the presidential election. The 2012 presidential race may be over, but the battle for re-election recognition has just begun as big data, social media, mobile, TV set-top-box targeting, cable television and various other platforms seek to claim the glorious title of the Biggest Media Impact Maker on the 2012 Presidential Election. In the spirit of the season, local market TV broadcast stations would like to offer the facts which put this all in perspective.

This year, local TV stations captured over 80% of total television spending in the political category, far outpacing local and national cable and often at a higher relative value of costs to impressions. In fact, it is projected that stations maintained their 85% share of the local TV total.

Reflecting recognition from campaign teams on the reach and persuasion of Local TV, these stations’ total political revenue continues to grow at an extremely high rate increasing more than 35% (to $2.1 billion) in 2010 versus 2008, and by over 38% (to $2.9 billion) in 2012 versus 2010.

Local TV remains the premiere choice for campaign media strategists as Presidential spending on local broadcast TV stations in 2012 (from the conventions to Election Day) grew dramatically versus 2008, increasing over 65% to nearly $500 million.

Where were the changes?

Targeting was one of the primary areas of change for campaign strategists. This year in addition to MRI and Scarborough, Rentrak provided voter targeting TV viewing research by market and sub-market geographies for both broadcast and cable channels. The difference: cable tends to be targeted and bought by network while broadcast is purchased by campaign media managers by program, daypart and genre. But the Big difference is that for any geographic region or sub-region broadcast television had the vast majority of target viewer rating points and ad inventory. And although the Obama campaign tilted more toward placements in Prime time while Romney strategists favored ads near News programming, when the PAC and party committee ads are factored into the equation, the daypart allocations were not dramatically different between the two campaigns. In fact, in a lot of dayparts they were identical.

There are two big takeaways from the 2012 presidential election: PACs/Super PACs change everything and new campaign management tools and techniques are fundamentally additive in terms of utility and expense. But it is clear they are not media replacements.

This was the first presidential cycle where the PACs played a role and they played a vastly different role for each campaign. President Obama’s campaign stuck with what works and placed 88% of the broadcast spots. Priorities USA (Mr. Obama’s PAC) and the DNC placed 12% of the broadcast spots. The Romney camp’s campaign accounted for less than 40% of the broadcast spots and Mr. Romney’s PAC accounted for another 12%. Other pro-Romney PACs (mostly Crossroads and the RNC) represented 50%, or half, of his broadcast media.

How Obama Prevailed

This vital difference in the 2012 rivals’ planning and buying media structures gave the Obama campaign distinct advantages. The most eye-popping was that although the Romney forces are estimated to have outspent Obama’s by a ratio of 55/45, Obama’s team actually purchased about 10% more broadcast spots. This buying power advantage was particularly impactful in the 60 day lowest unit rate period prior to Election Day where most of his spending qualified for protection but much of Romney’s did not.

Other important advantages to the Obama campaign’s controlling the lion’s share of the budget were ‘command and control’. With the nine battleground states taking about 90% of the presidential spend the issue became when to spend rather than where to spend. Obama’s team acted early and dominated with both TV dollars and units from May through July. When Romney’s forces paused their spending at the end of August around the conventions, the Obama camp turned up the heat and never lost the ad unit lead again. In this case, having all your eggs in one basket was a good thing.

Secondly, Nate Silver, the founder of, is a rock star and Big Data is here to stay. Superb data management applications are clearly critical at this level of campaigning for polling, fundraising, community building, ground operations, and media planning. Incremental improvements to existing Big Data tools and applications make the technology more effective, but also make it more complex and more expensive. The key takeaway here is that Big Data is not a media strategy per se, but it does facilitate Big Ad-spending by targeting voting groups and improving campaigners’ ability to decide where and how to allocate their large sums of cash. It will be interesting to see how far and how fast down-ballot this trend goes.

In the meantime, these tools will only serve to amplify the power of the indispensable political communications platform and the Biggest Media Impact Maker on the 2012 Presidential Election… LOCAL MARKET BROADCAST TV.”