2010 Mid-Term Elections: Proxy on Local Media Political Ad Savvy

Last Updated Jan 20, 2010 11:20 PM EST

Local political advertising spending in 2010 mid-term elections will likely escalate in the aftermath of Republican Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts, winning the senate seat belonging a half century to the late Democratic lion Ted Kennedy.

The fight over other senate and house seats could be a catalyst for much needed local media advertising growth this year. But a surprising portion of campaign ad spending could go to digital media and social networks which Brown aggressively used to achieve one of the most stunning political upsets of the century.

Nervous politicians are taking the Massachusetts contest as a sign of voter unrest that puts other races up for grabs. Candidates will likely do more than resort to traditional campaign advertising on television, in newspapers and on outdoor billboards in an effort to reach tech-savvy consumers on their own turf. That would put traditional media that thrives on political ads in direct --and, perhaps, disadvantaged -- competition with new digital rivals such as Facebook and Google.
Junior state Sen. Brown won the contentious race making a grassroots appeal in his 199,000-mile pickup truck and using every tool in Google's arsenal. The Brown campaign made savvy use of social networks, ads on YouTube, Gmail please and key word searches.

A week before voters went to the polls, the campaign launched a Google network blast that saturated Google content network Web pages in Massachusetts with the candidate's display ads. In the past, those political ad dollars would have been automatically spent on traditional local media.

Without political or Olympics related advertiser spending, growth in overall local media ad spending would be flat at best this year.

Local TV advertising spending fell 25 percent in 2009 to about $15 billion and even local TV station online revenues fell 56 percent during the worst of the recession, according to Magna Global.

Overall, nascent local digital ad spending is expected to steadily grow from $19 billion in 2010 to $32 billion by 2013 even as combined traditional local media ad revenues from all sectors contract from about $117 billion in 2010 to $112.4 billion by 2013, according to eMarketer and BIA/Kelsey. Local media and merchants may move slowly into some interactive areas such as social media and mobile, a category that could triple by 2012 from nearly $600 million this year, according to Borrell Associates.

Many local TV broadcasters are still dazed and reeling from economic and digital blows to their traditional business models. The lion's share of local political ad spending will likely continue to occur on local television this year. Many broadcasters are not positioned as well as they should be to grab increased digital political campaign spending building on smart phones and other mobile devices of choice.

If the myriad of incumbent and new candidates this year opt for hyper local connections that target specific voter demographics that play to their strength, local TV stations and newspapers could miss the opportunity to maximize their share of campaign spending.

The more than $20 million spent so far on TV ads for 2010 elections, according to Advertising Age, could exceed early forecasts. Several dozen state primaries will occur before July. The races include all 435 House seats, one third of the US Senate and 37 governorships in heavy-spending states such as Illinois, California and Florida.

The 2012 national elections are expected to generate even more enterprising use of search, online video and other digital media in a healthier economy, according to eMarketer analyst David Hallerman.

By then, local TV broadcasters most certainly will be looking at even more dramatic change in their programming, advertising and economic status quo. That makes this week's election as much of a wake up call for TV broadcasters as for Democrats.

  • Diane Mermigas

    Diane Mermigas has been a contributing editor and columnist at Mediapost, The Hollywood Reporter and Crain Communications as well as writing for such sites as Seeking Alpha, TrueSlant and BNET. In addition to speaking and television appearances, Diane consults with companies in digital transition, and is completing a book on the future of media.