5 Things You Need to Know About Digital Media and the 2016 Presidential Election

political advertising

1. Digital media has changed elections drastically in the last 16 years.

In the last 16 years, we’ve gone from a 24-hour news cycle to a 24-minute news cycle to a 24-second news cycle. This election, deemed the Snapchat election, is an ephemeral way of referring to the shrinking attention span of the American consumer.

2. 2016 is the first billion-dollar digital ad election.

More than half of U.S. political ad agency professionals anticipate advertising budget increases of up to 20% in the 2016 election. Digital media advertising will benefit from some of the increased budget, garnering a projected 10% of total political ad spending, although some U.S. political ad agency professionals anticipate that number will be closer to 20%. While the digital share lags behind the broader ad market (35.8% of ad dollars will go to digital in 2016), it is still an exponential increase from elections in the past. In 2012, digital advertising only accounted for 1.8% of total political advertising.

3. Campaigns must continue to adapt as time spent with media shifts toward digital and mobile channels, especially among younger generations.

National news sites like CNN.com (43%), online news sites like Yahoo! News (34%) and national newspaper sites like WSJ.com (25%) are the top types of websites used by U.S. registered voters to find candidate news and information. Nearly half of registered voters use mobile devices to access news and information about candidates.

Social plays an integral role, especially when reaching younger cohorts (18 – 29, which includes Gen Z and millennials), as they find social media the most helpful medium to learn about candidates, by a wide margin.

  • While social media is claimed to be the preferred method for political engagement, actions lag behind. The primary way U.S. internet users prefer to engage with a political candidate is via social media (25%) vs. direct mail (14%) or a phone call (7%).

Digital video is increasingly important to extend reach and meet TV-oriented goals across digital channels.

  • One-in-ten voters watch political videos daily.
  • 59% of voters ages 18-34 use digital video to learn about political candidates and issues.

Presidential campaign ads have the largest share of mobile video impressions. Candidates using mobile video have a much better chance of making a personal connection with a voter on their handheld device.

4. Market research data will play an increasingly important role
as presidential campaign ads try to persuade undecided voters.

Candidates are rapidly adopting the use of first-party data, such as email onboarding through a DMP, when they receive information from political rallies or donations.

“Data gets political agencies really excited because when you look at the electorate, 40% are going to vote one way, 40% will vote the other way and it’s the 20% in the middle that’s persuadable. Data targeting has become the holy grail for political advertisers because they are able to find voters that they know are going to be persuadable based on different characteristics.” – Mike Balabanov, Advertising Account Director, AOL

5. Why earned Media Matters In Political Advertising

As of February 2016, Donald Trump leads the way in earned media. This stresses the importance that both the brand and the message resonate with the audience in order to generate action and get votes.

Presidential Ad Spending

Candidate Paid Media Earned Media
Trump $10M $1.9B
Bush $82M $214M
Clinton $28M $746M
Sanders $28M $321M


U.S. Election 2016: Spotlight on Digital Advertising, Data, and Targeting (eMarketer, May 2016).

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Let's talk.

Contact us today.