Donald Trump’s Personal Money Probably Won’t Help Political Ad Spending

Insiders ask, 'What is he waiting for?'

Is Donald Trump's cash flow too little, too late? GIF: Yuliya Kim; Source: Getty Images

The final week of Donald Trump's campaign for president has turned into a question of "will he? or won't he?" like some kind of sitcom romance.

Last week, CNN reported that Trump only donated $31,000 of his own money to his campaign in early October. (By comparison, rival Hillary Clinton shelled out $50,000 of her own cash.) To show them who's boss, he wired $10 million to his campaign that very same day to buy more ad time.

But is it too little too late?

Local markets have been consistently reporting that Trump isn't spending what they expected him to, even when compared to previous election cycles. Perhaps that's because he's waiting until the last minute to book ad time, or that his campaign has been more focused on damage control, or maybe it's the free media he garners from his rallies, which just got a shot in the arm from the FBI.

Whatever the reasons, according to Strata, a Comcast-owned ad-tech software firm that processes $50 billion in ad transactions a year, many political agencies don't believe he'll ramp up the ad spend.

"In their view, it should have happened already," said Judd Rubin, vp of Strata. "They're left wondering: 'What is he waiting for?'"

Rubin said that in past elections, campaigns would balance free media from the news cycle, with paid advertising. Not so in 2016. Not for Trump, anyway.

A majority of ad agencies surveyed by Strata—86 percent—think pro-Trump groups will have a hard time finding inventory for local TV ads in swing states. These ad agencies represent more than 30 percent of total national political ad spend.

"Historically, the last month and week of the election almost always sees a significant spike in ad spend," said Rubin. In 2012, he said, the Pittsburgh market saw a 348 percent increase in October from September. In Cleveland that same year, spending shot up 159 percent.

Based on market projections, this year doesn't even come close.

"Our estimates show a more modest 23 percent increase in Cleveland in October from September, and a 43 percent increase in Pittsburgh," said Rubin.

"This isn't 2012, and it's not Romney versus Obama."

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