Runoff Elections in Georgia Expected to Spur Unprecedented Ad Spend Blitz

Two Senate seats are up for grabs, with control of Congress at stake

Georgia will see an influx of political ad dollars into its Senate runoff elections. Kacy BUrdette

And you thought the political ads were over. Not for Georgia.

Unprecedented Senate runoff races have reopened the floodgates of political advertising and will potentially pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the state to reach voters who will likely decide the party that controls the U.S. Senate.

The sums are hefty: It’s been a year of record-breaking fundraising and ad spend for campaigns. And there’s no knowing the limit on how much will be spent to secure the two Senate seats up for grabs. Already, in the days following Nov. 3, $1 million has been spent in political ads surrounding the runoff races, according to Advertising Analytics.

“Unfathomable amounts of money for a single state,” remarked Brian Wieser, global president of business intelligence at GroupM. “You’ll see more spending in Georgia in one month than you might see in some countries of a comparable size for a whole year.”

The election on January 5 will decide two winners. None of the candidates in either of the two Senate races last week garnered the required 50% of the vote needed to avoid a runoff. The races could serve as one last additional shot in the arm for media companies during an otherwise challenging year for advertising due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Raphael Warnock, a Democrat running against Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, has spent nearly $400,000 on ads, the most of any candidate in Georgia’s Congressional races. Last Thursday, Warnock kicked off his campaign with a $126,058 TV ad buy, according to Advertising Analytics.

In the other Senate race, incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue is facing Democrat Jon Ossoff, who has so far spent $265,001, the second-highest ad bill, according to Advertising Analytics.

Linear TV again stands to benefit the most—at least until Facebook and Google reverse their bans on post-election political advertisements. Neither social media company has publicly given firm timelines on when they’ll begin accepting political ad dollars again, after each banned them surrounding Election Day in an effort to curb misinformation.

It’s also unclear what those tech companies’ political ad policies will be for January’s Georgia rematch. “You have to imagine anywhere the money can be spent, it will be,” Wieser said.

Warnock’s ad commitment comes as TV networks have seen record-breaking political ad revenue. In all, total national ad spend will near $14 billion this election year, according to a recent S&P analysis. Much of that was spent on broadcast TV, with the presidential candidates each spending more than 40% of their budgets on the medium.

In terms of messaging, both sides will likely tie their marketing to President Donald Trump, with the Republicans engaging their base to drive voter turnout and the Democrats bringing the likes of former President Barack Obama and President-elect Joe Biden to the state to campaign, said David Schweidel, marketing professor at Emory University.

“The theme there will be one of supporting the new administration by trying to reclaim the Senate,” Schweidel said.

Indeed, this base of supporters will need to be motivated to turn out to the polls, being a “much different race” than that on Nov. 3, according to Reid Vineis, vp of digital at marketing firm Majority Strategies.

“Many voters who turned out in the general election won’t turn out for the runoff. Look for campaigns to focus on their strongest partisan voters,” Vineis said.

@SaraJerde Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.