Tuesday’s United States presidential election took a Brexit-like twist at the eleventh hour, and Donald Trump, who was trailing significantly in most forecasts, was elected the 45th president of the United States. He was able to overcome former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, even though all signs pointed to a relatively easy win for Clinton. So how did a real estate mogul – network reality star turned politician win one of the most important positions in the world? Advertising, like in any election, played a massive role.
Not only did the election take a twist but political advertising itself also took a twist. Trump did not outspend Clinton on advertising. In fact, he didn’t even come close to spending what the Clinton campaign did on traditional advertising. According to Advertising Age, in July Trump’s future buys totaled less than $655,000 on traditional television and radio ads, while Clinton was projected to spend $111 million on the same platform. While Trump boosted his spending towards the end of the election, the advertising spend gap was still sizable between the two candidates, with Clinton airing more than three times the number of television ads. So how did Trump win an election with such lopsided ad spend when it came to traditional media? He got unconventional.
Trump paid a digital marketing firm $8.4 million in just July, with around 90% of that being used to purchase digital ads. He took advantage of the relative affordability of digital, while also using social media to generate free media coverage. He also built bigger followings on sites like Facebook and Twitter, allowing him to tap into free advertising. As of February 2016, Trump had gained $1.9 billion in earned media, or publicity that wasn’t paid for, more than doubling that of the Clinton campaign. Using social media platforms played a large role and gave him a huge advantage without spending a dime. Reaching voters online, which increasingly means on their mobile device, where 51.3 percent of mobile Internet use globally happens, has been a coup for the “long shot candidate”.
Looking back at past elections, Barack Obama spent $333 million on television advertising, besting Republican challenger Mitt Romney, whose campaign spent $147 million. It’s now looking like that election was the last of its kind. That election saw digital advertising take up 1.8 percent of total ad spend, compared to upwards of 10 percent this year according to analysts. And while that’s a large increase, it’s well behind the 35.8 percent of ad dollars that will go towards digital platforms this year.
We’ve reached a point where a monumental budget advantage is no longer the deciding factor in national politics.