Televised campaign ads just aren’t what they used to be. In our increasingly Internet-bound culture, more and more voters are turning to social media sites and other web-based platforms for their daily news. Recent surveys show that while Baby Boomers rely primarily on televised programming for news, Millennials prefer to check their apps. According to statistics from the Pew Research Center, a full 61% of millennials check their Facebook feeds to stay updated on current events in any given week, while only 37% report turning to their televisions for information.
Campaigns have long spent incredible amounts of money on televised ads in attempts to sway voters to their sides – but will those tactics lose their efficacy if current trends continue, and younger viewers opt not to tune in?
The answer is complicated.
In the 2016 election, President Trump spent considerably less than Hillary Clinton on his campaign. Estimates from the Washington Post put his expenditures at 956.7 million, against Clinton’s 1.4 billion. This isn’t a simple matter of spending less – it’s a matter of not needing to spend as much.
Unlike most traditional candidates, Trump received a remarkable amount of (free) social media engagement, and depended heavily on his existing base of followers to disseminate and engage with his messages. Moreover, because of the traditional media coverage allotted to candidates, his social media reach was actually extended by conventional coverage as his social presence fed into his political persona. The key to the Trump campaign was its effective utilization of both traditional and social media platforms. According to Adam Broder of FTI Consulting, Trump may have “earned” as much as $5 billion in free media coverage through his unconventional melding of social and traditional media campaigns.
But is this to say that television ads will cease to be relevant in upcoming years?
Television ads still reach a considerable number of people, and studies have shown that television ads have a significant impact on late-deciders. It is worth noting that Trump, despite his comparatively low spending in the months prior, poured money into television ad buys in the last few weeks of the election – increasing his spending from roughly $23,000 per electoral vote per week to over $91,000 per electoral vote per week in the final weeks of the campaign.
There’s no doubt that social media sites have begun to dominate as platforms for political news, particularly for younger voters. However, television will always serve as a valuable space for campaigners, and hold a place in strategy. As we move forward, the best campaigns will need to merge social media engagement with traditional coverage in order to build a strong and widely promoted candidate presence.