Political advertising is a unique beast. It’s a months-long marathon full of building awareness, appealing for donations, fighting primary battles, and educating audiences on who you are and what you believe in. Then, after a long year (or more, given the United States’ ever-lengthening campaign seasons) the race wraps up with an all-out sprint toward Election Day as candidates and causes of all kinds pitch themselves to busy, skeptical, and undecided voters while rallying supporters to head to the polls. Just thinking about it makes us out of breath.
Every election battle is fierce, but 2024 is shaping up to be one of the most hotly contested cycles in recent memory—and the most expensive in history. The combination of high-profile races, major cultural and economic questions, motivated cause-based outside groups, and emotionally invested voters is likely to fuel high turnout and even higher ad budgets. Led by a presidential race at the top of the ticket, the election is forecast to generate a record $12 billion in political ad spend, including $9 billion on down-ballot races. And with so many political (and non-political) advertisers looking to grab their share of voice and motivate their audiences to action, having the latest and greatest tips, tactics, insights, and strategies will be essential to ensuring a successful campaign.
Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place: This is the ultimate guide to political advertising in the 2024 US elections. We’ll be updating this page regularly in the months leading up to Election Day on November 5, 2024, so be sure to bookmark it for future reference.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
With each succeeding election, the campaign season seems to be starting earlier and earlier, and in fall 2023, an array of presidential and senatorial candidates are already well into their fundraising and vote appeal cycles (while congressional candidates are seemingly always fundraising without pause). With most campaigns either already underway or soon to begin, political marketers are eagerly diving into awareness, fundraising, and list building.
In the early days of a campaign, when small dollar fundraising and email list building is key, there’s no channel quite like social. Between its effectiveness and its efficiency, nothing else can even compete.
Most political social spend is taking place on Meta’s Facebook and Instagram, which advertisers of all stripes have long loved for their significant reach and precise targeting capabilities. Snapchat is another platform that accepts political advertising, which can be particularly useful for candidates and cause-based marketers looking to reach millennial and Gen Z voters. Technically, X (aka “The Social Network Formerly Known As Twitter”) has also started accepting political ads again, but given spending and user trends, it’s unlikely to capture a large slice of the political pie. And to answer your next question: No, TikTok still does not allow political advertising, whether in the form of brand ads or paid branded content.
Beyond social, other key tactics for raising awareness (and raising dollars via small donors) include trusted standbys like video, display, and search/SEM. All four of those play key roles throughout any campaign, with video in particular being largely considered a political advertiser’s best friend. Speaking of which...
If 2022 was CTV’s political advertising breakout performance, then 2024 is set to be its star turn. The fast-growing channel accounted for 12% of all political ad dollars spent during the midterms, and that spend is expected to rise to $1.3 billion in the coming election cycle.
Why, exactly, do political advertisers love CTV and streaming video? It boils down to a lot of the same factors that have fueled the decades-long love affair between political advertisers and linear TV. Campaigns are often trying to both educate voters and, simultaneously, develop an emotional connection that will get them to the polls—and video is uniquely suited to accomplishing both. With CTV, advertisers can access that familiar TV-like experience (and TV-like benefits), but with the added bonus of digital targeting capabilities and access to audiences that have either supplemented or replaced their linear viewing hours with digital media.
From an overall ad spend perspective, broadcast is still king in the land of political advertising. But if you’re sticking to advertising on linear TV alone, your spots are likely not reaching an increasingly large swath of voters who’ve either cut the cord or never had cable to begin with. Add on the atypical year of linear TV programming that’s underway due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, plus the heaps of new inventory, and CTV is about as critical a channel as you’ll find in 2024.
There are many different ways to buy CTV inventory—from programmatic on the open exchange, to programmatic guaranteed, to private marketplace (PMP) deals, and more. But while there’s a decent amount of overlap amongst the inventory available across those different buying methods (save for highly-valuable exclusive CTV inventory that’s only accessible through select partners), advertisers looking to take full advantage of the channel should use a healthy mix of each—especially when demand spikes and availability tightens up in the 30 days leading up to your state’s primaries and, of course, starting in early October during the run up to Election Day. Otherwise, you run the risk of blowing through your budget (or, worse yet, getting shut out entirely) as programmatic CPMs soar down the homestretch.
(Want to make the most of the political CTV advertising opportunity? Be sure to check out our guide.)
Video and display dominate political ad spending—commanding 68% and 24%, respectively, of all digital political spend during the midterms—and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. But where are there underutilized opportunities for campaigns that want to get the most bang for their budgetary buck and maximize their reach with target voter audiences?
One under-adopted format: native, which advertisers can use to insert their creative into the feeds of news and other websites. Native advertising made up just 3% of political ad spend in 2022—perhaps because, to many marketers, native feels a bit more complicated (or even intimidating) than familiar, tried-and-true ad types such as video or display banner ads. But leveraging native can be as simple as taking your Facebook creative, loading it into your DSP (or your agency partner’s DSP), and then testing and experimenting with different headlines to see what performs best across different sites. It’s a great way to get your message in front of voters right alongside other content they’re consuming on sites that they know and trust.
Audio is another underutilized channel amongst political advertisers. While spend on the medium did rise from 2020 to 2022, it still accounted for just 1% of digital spend in the midterms (compared to 6.4% of overall digital ad spend in 2023), indicating there’s plenty of ripe opportunity that’s currently going untapped.
Audio delivers plenty of addressable audiences that political advertisers are keen on reaching—with over 225 million US listeners who tune in for an average of 2 hours and 43 minutes per day— while offering many of the same emotional and educational benefits that come with video. Best of all, the inventory is now widely available programmatically (even for broadcast radio ads), making it easier than ever to buy while providing the same types of targeting tactics available elsewhere in the programmatic ecosystem. Add it all together, and audio is poised to be a breakout channel for political in 2024.
Lastly, in many districts, digital out-of-home can be a savvy and effective way to raise awareness and get your candidate or cause in front of voters as they navigate through the world. Like audio, more and more DOOH inventory is now available programmatically, so for many political advertisers, it’s increasingly becoming a channel to know.
While much of the digital advertising world is focused on signal loss and the impending impact of Google’s promised deprecation of third-party cookies in Chrome in 2024, the approach among many in the political advertising world has resembled something closer to, “Let’s just not think about it, and hopefully we won’t have to deal until 2026.” Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ongoing challenges around audience targeting for political marketers—or that a Q3 Google announcement about Chrome going cookieless couldn’t deliver an October surprise to campaigns nationwide.
Granted, the political world is used to frequent (and sometimes last-minute) changes to their digital targeting and reach capabilities. Since 2018, a range of US states including California, Virginia, and many others have introduced new levels of nuance in their regulation of digital political advertising. That same year, Facebook (now Meta) began its now-standard political ad buyer verification process, before adding new disclaimer requirements in 2019, and then eliminating targeting by race, ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, or sexual orientation from its platforms starting in 2022. Spotify barred political and advocacy advertising in late 2019, only to re-introduce them in 2022. In 2020, Google removed the ability to audience target for election ads, limiting advertisers to reaching voters with age, gender, geographic and contextual targeting. The tech giant will also require political advertisers to disclose any use of AI in their ads. Add it all together, and it’s clear that political advertisers are already seasoned pros when it comes to working around increased targeting restrictions.
Looking ahead to 2024, political advertisers should ensure they are working with partners who have contingencies such as privacy-friendly identifiers and data-based solutions in place to ensure proper targeting and reach in the run up to Election Day. And many channels—including broadcast TV, CTV, and Facebook/Instagram—will go mostly (if not entirely) unaffected by such a change, outside of a potential spike in CPMs should more advertisers start running to those safe havens in the wake of any major signal loss.
Lastly, political marketers are likely to increasingly leverage geopolitical targeting tactics across their programmatic ad buys. According to Basis’ 2022 US election digital ad spend data, almost 20% of political programmatic ads used geopolitical targeting to reach voters in specific districts. Of those, 51% leveraged congressional district targeting, while 32% used state senate district targeting. These types of geo-based targeting tactics are expected to grow even more prominent if Google does indeed deprecate third-party cookies in Chrome over the course of the election cycle.
Sadly, connecting with voters in 2024 will mean more than just running ads in their markets. Misinformation and disinformation appear likely to play an outsized role in the coming elections, and political marketers will need to prepare accordingly.
Not helping matters: trust and safety teams have been dramatically downsized at many tech companies, including Google and YouTube parent company Alphabet, Facebook and Instagram’s Meta, Amazon, and X. When you combine that with the emergence of generative AI, an electorate that is increasingly partisan, and bad actors both domestic and foreign that aim to sew misinformation and disinformation into the political discourse, political marketers will face unique challenges when attempting to build a foundation of trust and connection with voters.
To their credit, Google, Meta, TikTok and others have expressed confidence in their ability to leverage both AI and human monitoring to combat any inevitable waves of misinformation on their channels. But in the meantime, the best thing political marketers can do to break through the noise is to get as strategic as possible about leveraging tactics that put their messaging in front of voters—particularly undecided voters and/or “persuadables” in the political center—while leaning on compelling creative that fosters an emotional connection with a public that’s often increasingly skeptical of fact-based appeals.
There’s no perfect way to stop misinformation from impacting an election, but with decisiveness and deliberateness around targeting and messaging—and by leveraging brand safety tools from partners like NOBL, Comscore, Grapeshot, and Peer39—campaigns can make sure their official voice is a loud and clear part of the conversation.
While there are plenty of reasons for political marketers to run a steady stream of ads throughout the entirety of the campaign process, spend tends to spike at two key times: the weeks leading up to a state’s primary day, and the four-plus weeks leading up to Election Day in November.
A Basis study found that 50% of digital ad budgets for the 2022 midterms were spent in the last 30 days before Election Day, with half of that spend allocated during the 10 days running up to the election as campaigns work to get out the vote. While presidential elections tend to have higher turnouts (and higher energy) than the midterms, down-ballot candidates could face unique challenges in 2024.
According to numerous polls, the two presumptive presidential nominees whose names will appear at the top of the ticket are widely unpopular, meaning it could fall to those down-ballot candidates to rally supporters to the polls—and, potentially, to win over voters who may not feel particularly excited about checking the box for either party’s presidential contenders. That means tapping fundraising and awareness channels early and often, and earmarking significant budget for the homestretch in October and November.
Of course, if all political advertisers are saving their budgets for the end of the campaign, there’s not going to be a whole lot of opportunity to capitalize on lower pricing anywhere near Election Day. If you’re looking for an edge, your best bet is to try to lock in favorable pricing by negotiating in advance via PMP deals, programmatic guaranteed, or even direct buys with preferred vendors.
Political advertisers face an especially complex and competitive 2024 election season. But by putting these insights and recommendations to work, marketing teams will be better positioned to find a competitive edge that helps lift their candidates and causes to victory. We hope these tips help you as you march on toward Election Day, and best of luck with the rest of the campaign!