5 Advertising Trends from the 2016 Presidential Election

Now that the dust has settled on this election season, we wanted to evaluate the trends that made this election cycle so unique. We’ve analyzed the data, read the reports, and spoken to a number of key players in political marketing to uncover just what made this election so historic.

Many political campaigns took an audience-first approach, resulting in the rise of digital, mobile and audience targeting strategies, whereas TV broadcast audiences and advertising continued to decline. While digital marketing has become widely adopted by B2B and B2C brands alike, this was the first cycle where we saw political marketers across the ballot really embrace digital marketing tactics to reach voters.

Here are five trends from #Election2016, and what they mean for the future of political advertising.


It’s estimated that Americans now consume over 5.5 hours of digital media every day. “[Digital] is a magically fluid medium. You can do video, audio, rich media, and display,” said Chris Nolan, Founder at Spot-On, an online media buying firm. As a result of today’s Internet of Things-driven world, we saw a major shift in both how and where successful political campaigns were spending their money. Digital offered political marketers, whether well-funded presidential or state and local campaigns, the audience, scale and engagement they were looking for. “From 2014 to 2016, we increased our digital budget by 60%,” said Ted Peterson, Digital Director, National Republican Congressional Committee.

The use of digital channels wasn’t just used to influence the hard to reach Millennial voter either. It was recently revealed that the Trump campaign actually used digital marketing to reach the more mature voter. “Older demos shouldn’t be ignored online… We saw some of the strongest lift with 65+ voters,” tweeted Gary Coby, Director Digital Advertising and Fundraising for the Trump campaign.

Another explanation for the migration to digital is that TV seemed to price itself out in many markets—a self-imposed challenge for a medium that continues to see a decline in viewership. “I anticipate we’ll see a lot of digital in New Jersey and Virginia for their legislative races next year because of the ridiculous television prices. Super PACs have already pushed up their rates for next year,” said Nolan.

As Americans continue to increase time spent with digital media, leaning on digital marketing to reach voters will be integral to future campaign success. “Digital is critical to taking an audience-centric approach because that’s where consumers are going with their media usage,” said Allen Fuller, Founder of Flat Creek Digital in Boulder, CO.


Digital has replaced traditional media because of mobile. “Mobile is important. We wanted to target voters wherever they were and for many, they were not just on desktop, but on mobile,” said Peterson. Voters are using mobile devices to watch video, TV, movies, play games, scroll their social feeds and listen to streaming audio. Successful campaigns recognized this important shift and made the pivot to mobile advertising this election cycle.

“I anticipate we will have an 80% mobile world within the next 2 years,” said Nolan. As digital native generations such as Millennials and Generation Z become voters, they will make up an increasingly larger segment of the electorate. Campaigns who embrace a mobile advertising strategy will have a winning advantage in the future.


For over 60 years, TV has dominated political advertising. However, through polling, BASK Digital learned that almost 25% of target voters were not watching traditional TV. “While we didn’t ignore TV, a combination of digital, social and Pandora [ads] were key to reaching audiences who didn’t watch TV in the traditional sense,” said Amanda Bloom, Digital Media Director at BASK Digital. Gary Coby, the Director of Digital Advertising and Fundraising for the Trump campaign, recently revealed that the Trump’s media split was nearly 50/50 TV vs. Digital, way above the traditional media mix of past elections.

With voters multi-tasking throughout their daily lives, campaigns saw more success when they reinforced their messages across a number of different screens. “Anyone who thinks you can reach voters using only one medium or just the traditional three; television, mail and phone, is living in the 20th century and that was 16 years ago,” said Nolan.

The votes are now in and it’s clear that the campaign strategists who did not expand their mix outside of broadcast television, cable TV, yard signs and direct mail fell short this election year.

A winning campaign in the future will be one that identifies the right audience on the right medium and delivers creative messaging that is personal to the voter and unique to the environment.


Technology has fueled an audio renaissance. Voice is the new touch with the advent of voice activation and recognition technologies, like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa. Through the power of voice and sound, audio is re-emerging as a powerful tool to reach voters of all ages. With 75% of Americans saying that music is their top choice for entertainment1, many campaigns turned to Pandora to reach voters this cycle.

Partnering with publishers like Pandora offered campaigns a premium environment, with less clutter, where voters are tuned-in and receptive. “Premium inventory is key. When we’re running an ad on Pandora and someone Tweets about it or leaves us a Facebook comment about it, we know it’s working,” said Peterson.

Digital audio has become an integral part of a campaign’s audience strategy. “We took an audience-centric approach and Pandora was a natural fit given the data we had on our target audience and where they were spending their time. Our audience over indexed on Pandora and online radio in general,” said Fuller.


Digital solutions offer many benefits to marketers but none more so than the ability to eliminate waste by leveraging data to target potential voters. “We wanted to be able to reach registered voters or people who have voted in the past. We didn’t want to deliver a message to people who were too young to vote or weren’t going to show up,” said Peterson.

Many of the campaigns and agencies that put too much faith in the power of data matching, completely ignored millions of persuadable voters and lost in November. Future campaigns will be won by those who can successfully incorporate a diverse media mix combined with smart data targeting.

“Data is not a synonym for voter match targeting. Voter match targeting especially for small, tight geographies doesn’t lend itself to success. A lot of folks who insisted on this in communities with less than 25K people found themselves on the wrong end of the count when Nov. 8th rolled around,” said Nolan.


So where do we go from here? Political marketers need to embrace the fact that voter behaviors are changing. Campaign managers and political consultants must continue to invest in taking an audience-first approach to capture attention in the connected world we live in. Mass media alone can no longer be relied upon to generate sufficient awareness, persuasion, and voter turnout. As we begin down the road to the next election, candidates and campaigns that embrace today’s landscape to leverage digital, mobile, the power of audio and data in a smart, strategic way, will likely be future winners.


To learn how Pandora can help amplify your next political campaign, contact us here.

Source: Nielsen, Music 360 Study, January 2015 (Nationally representative sample of A13+, survey was in field August—September 2014)