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Media Buying Shop’s Message To Clients: Get Ready For Political Ad Crowding.

Media buyers are already telling their clients to brace themselves, it’s going to be a bumpy ride over the next year with what is likely to be unprecedented political advertising levels. The media agency Assembly last week said it expects a record $12 billion will be spent during the election cycle, and that means adjustments in buying strategies for regular brands will be required.

“Commercial advertisers don't exist in a vacuum. They'll be playing alongside political ads in all markets across the country,” says Alan Srochi, Senior Manager of Political Strategy at Assembly. In a just-released outlook, the agency says some states – like California, Arizona, and Pennsylvania – will be the most intense when it comes political ad spending during the next 14 months.

“There may be less inventory overall, and you're just going to have to be aware and be smart about how you're deploying your resources,” says Tyler Goldberg, Director of Political Strategy at Assembly. “It does not mean you need to cancel all of your ad spending at all, but it means you need to know how to navigate the political landscape.”

In the past, mainstream advertisers have often chosen to sit on the sidelines during the political season when inventory is tight, media are cluttered with ads, and listener tune-out levels may be higher. But with a political cycle that is getting longer and longer, that is proving to be a less useful response.

“You don't need to just sort of stick your head in the sand,” Goldberg says. “What it really comes down to is having strong creative that is sort of memorable.”

He says an advertiser also needs to take into consideration that a commercial break may include several political ads, and that would cause plenty of intense emotions about certain issues, and their message may get further with a consumer if it takes on a different tone.

Goldberg also expects there will be a secondary effect from all that political advertising on the consumer. He thinks it is likely that a campaign message will be how bad inflation and the economy are, and that could have an impact on purchase behavior of products overall. “Political affiliation is now a greater indicator of how they view the economy versus their own personal economic situation,” Goldberg says.

Assembly expects 2024 to have fewer competitive statewide races than in 2022, but that will not mean less spending. Instead, it says the importance of the races that are competitive will be amplified. It also means a longer-term impact with spending ramping up during the fourth quarter with the first presidential primaries set for January.

“The ‘23 and ’24 holiday seasons are going to be affected by the political cycle, so figuring out the best way for your brand to navigate and not having a one size fits all is how we usually approach a political cycle,” Goldberg says.

That polarized environment also means that brands need to walk a fine line with their creative, especially considering the divisive environment America is currently in. Cultural hot buttons have tripped up several brands this year, including Bud Light, Target, the Dodgers and Disney. Heading into the election year, Goldberg thinks all media teams should have a plan when their brand is dragged into the political headlines.

“It's a position that most perhaps would try to avoid. But you can't just completely ignore it anymore,” Goldberg says. “You can be strategically silent. Absolutely. But you can't ignore it. And that's a huge distinction.”

Whether to address an issue head-on depends on the brand, he says. For some brand’s core values, it can make perfect sense to be out front and to be advocating for something. But if a brand has historically been silent, Goldberg thinks that may not be the way to go. “You can risk real damage to your brand,” he says. “And that does damage not just in the short term, but we have seen brands who have sort of gotten the performative advocacy angle wrong and it has truly affected their bottom lines.”

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