Preparing for the Political Ad Push

Some campaign spots bumped for PACs as the battle for TV ad inventory heats up

Between now and Nov. 6, there will be nowhere to hide from the onslaught of political advertising set to hit more than $3.3 billion on TV. Behind the scenes at TV stations, traffic managers are juggling buys from presidential, House, Senate and gubernatorial campaigns, not to mention those put forth by various Super PACs. With so much demand on inventory, not every spot placed will make it on-air; other campaigns may find their ads running when no one is watching. How can campaigns keep tabs? That’s where Thom Carroll comes in. He and partner Joe Stoltz, the former head of the Federal Election Commission’s audit division, founded Campaign Media Accountability in April to give candidates the same kind of accountability services mainstream advertisers have relied on for years. Carroll took a break from the Senate campaigns he’s tracking to talk about why it’s critical for political campaigns to ensure they get what they paid for.

Adweek: Where did the idea to start a verification service for political ads come from?

Joe Stoltz and I met several years ago when I was working on a presidential campaign, and the FEC audited it. We were astonished that there was no independent accountability in the election business. There is no third party to verify and reconcile that everything in a political ad campaign happened the way it should happen. Now the political ad dollars have grown, and it’s a major advertising category.

Why do campaigns need such a service?

Very often campaigns end with debt, so they need the money. But the better answer is that they owe it to their constituents to account for the money that has been donated. It’s not all that different than a public corporation that has shareholders and is obligated to do certified audits every year to account for what they’ve spent and done. We’re the first company to do this, but I don’t think we’ll be the last.

How much political advertising gets bumped?

Somewhere between 1 percent and 5 percent of political ads don’t run as they were supposed to. This year it could be even more dramatic, particularly in the battleground states. There is so much volume going on that stations can’t keep up with it. It’s a frantic situation.

Why do TV stations bump political ads? Don’t they make a lot of money from them?

Stations have different classes of commercial time. Some is pre-emptible with notice; some is pre-emptible without notice. Campaigns and political parties come in and they lay down their buys, but then PACs come in and because they aren’t subject to lowest-unit rates, they will spend astronomical rates to get on the air. If stations have tremendous demand, I think they will try to limit the number of candidate ads they can take because they’ll want the money from the PACs.

What does that do to ad rates?

In battleground markets, we could see rates jump seven times what is normally charged a commercial advertiser, even more for programming that is in demand. The net result is a lot of campaigns, including PACs, will face a lot of pre-emptions. And they won’t know about it until after the election is over.

What are your predictions for the political ad market this election?

Political has become a major advertising category. For stations, this will be their key category of business, surpassing auto.