Impact of Presidential Election on Social Media Advertising


To identify the impact of the upcoming US presidential election on paid social media advertising, ideally through case studies focusing on brands that have shifted their strategies during the presidential election period in the United States. Specific impacts on cost, content, and strategy are of particular interest. This information will be used to help adjust and optimize a paid social media strategy for Four Corners Brewing Company.

Early Findings

Impact of Presidential Election on Digital Advertising

  • Hanapin Marketing, a paid digital marketing consultancy, has found that the way media is consumed and purchased generally changes significantly in the 12 months in advance of the US presidential election.
  • Starting with primary candidates "splitting the amount of attention, noise and most importantly, available ad space", the year leading up to the election impacts the advertising landscape considerably as the presidential election (November 3, 2020) nears.
  • Digital ad spending prior to the 2016 election reached $1.4 billion, an unprecedented level of paid political digital advertising spend.
  • Kantar media estimated that in the late stages prior to the 2016 election, advertiser share of voice declined from 71% to 51%.
  • Digital advertising costs are generally expected to increase during the election cycle. In 2016, Facebook CPC was 29% higher in September and October, 31% higher in November, and 67% higher in December.
  • In advance of the 2020 election, Twitter has banned political advertising altogether, while Google has limited targeting options for political advertising, and Facebook has placed greater controls on political advertising. Facebook and Instagram will let users "turn off" political advertising during the 2020 election season.
  • Brand advertising with keywords or topics with any relationship to political advertising is expected to see even higher costs and more potential content restrictions.
  • Specific recommendations for ad planning during the presidential election cycle include flexible planning, especially for brands with "localized strategies" in battleground states, moving to less crowded channels, and includes content less focused on decision-making, with a "lighter", more educational tone that engages the consumer. With consumers likely to experience "ad fatigue" during this period, creative content with a focus on values and morals may also be more likely to "breakthrough" during this period.
  • "4 Ways To Manage Social Media During the Election Season" recommends remaining authentic to the brand messaging, being cognizant of the social channels on which the brand is advertised, modifying reporting benchmarks (but not necessarily scaling back content) to account for higher CPM and lower engagement during election season, and understanding the regulations in place during the political season on each social channel.
  • The Kansas City Business Journal notes some additional considerations for election season digital marketing strategy, including emphasizing customer retention with discounts and rewards over attracting new buyers and ensuring a brand website is optimized for attraction and engagement of new buyers.

Case Studies

  • In 2016, Bisquick capitalized on Donald Trump's tagline "Make America Great Again" with a "Make America Pancakes Again" campaign on Twitter, with #Votepancakes and #Votewaffles leveraged to boost social engagement.
  • In May 2016, Anheuser-Busch launched "America is in Your Hands", a multi-channel advertising campaign, including digital advertising and packaging tweaks, which ran through the November election.
  • In 2012, Heaven Hill Distilleries introduced Red and Blue State Bourbons, along with 2 separate Facebook pages (one for each color), a play on the upcoming election. For every Facebook "like", they donated $1 to Veterans of Foreign Wars. The campaign achieved increased engagement, based on Facebook "likes", which lasted through the election season.

Summary of Early Findings

  • We found a good amount of information, primarily via news articles and marketing consultancy insights, which discussed the impact of the election on social media advertising (cost, content, and strategy). Higher cost and lower engagement during an election cycle drive some unique strategies during this time period.
  • While we uncovered several case studies, most of those highlighted used the unique environment of the election season to drive awareness of their brand and attempt to break through the clutter by leveraging elements associated with the election (versus an entire strategy shift). This may not be as effective a strategy in 2020, given restrictions in the social media regulatory environment.
  • We did not find anything specific around Instagram and Facebook election season case studies, though it is likely that these channels may be part of a broader strategy shift or campaign for brands during election season.
  • When possible, we included information specific to the alcoholic beverage industry.
  • In addition to this public search, we scanned our proprietary research database of over 1 million sources and were unable to find any specific research reports that address your goals.
  • Our recommendations will be based on information available as determined in early research.

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