2020 Election Year Ad Disruptions are Already Here

BY: Geoff Roebuck
November 18, 2019

By Geoff Roebuck, Senior Director of Digital Marketing

We’re entering a national election year. In digital advertising, this means one thing: brace yourselves. The coming advertising blitz should bring rising costs and shrinking available inventory. This applies to everyone, even niche businesses that keep their distance from politics.

What to Watch For

The most pronounced changes will occur in Display and Social ad campaigns.

Historically, Cost Per 1,000 Impressions (CPM) have gone through the roof. In 2016, Level Agency observed year-over-year Display Ad costs rise as high as 125%. CPM for June 2015–December 2016, an 18-month view, rose 225% — over 3X! And immediately before the election that year, our clients’ CPM rates from October–November rose a full 50%.

Accompanying these expected rising costs, available inventory will likely shrink dramatically. Even the internet can’t keep up with the demand for ad space that election-year spending will drive. In 2016, our clients had trouble spending their budgets, with average available inventory down 36%.

Start watching for these changes now.

Responding to the Election Year

  • Be thoughtful. This election cycle will bombard your audiences with ads. They may be fatigued from the uptick in advertising.
  • Differentiate your creative. Do your ads stand out? Or are they lost among the political ads?
  • Consider your entire ad ecosystem. Are there other, less crowded ways to reach your audiences?
  • Allow extra time for ad submission. With extra filters in place to keep inauthentic content off platforms, creative approvals may take as long as several days. More on this below.
  • Monitor and optimize. Watch your ad performance carefully, and don’t be afraid to pivot if costs get out of hand.

Will 2020 Be Different?

Since the last election, Facebook and other platforms have instituted new algorithms and processes designed to filter out inauthentic, suspicious and misleading ad content. This includes new requirements for identity verification of every individual advertiser working on sensitive social issues, a step that Level’s social media team has already taken. If they are successful, 2020 will not see the extreme fluctuations that we saw in 2016 – which underscores the importance of careful monitoring.

Whatever the 2020 election year brings to the ad marketplace, be sure to set different expectations for your Display and Social ad channels for the coming year. And as always, talk to your agency partner to ensure that you are as prepared as possible.


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