If you thought you couldn’t escape the onslaught of political ads in 2012, just wait until 2016. This election cycle, campaigns are expected to fully embrace mobile advertising as a way to target voters anytime, anywhere. For the first time, spending on political ads for digital media is expected to top $1 billion, rivaling the estimated amounts campaigns spend on telemarketing and radio, according to a report released this month by the research firm Borrell Associates. That’s still just a fraction of the total $11.4 billion Borrell estimates will be poured into political advertising in 2016. But it’s a big increase since 2012, when spending on digital political ads was just $159 million.
Compared to the cost of airing a traditional television commercial, digital ads are a relatively inexpensive way for campaigns to get attention, said Steven Smith, director of the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government and Public Policy at Washington University in St. Louis. “The formula is simple: Do something humorous, encourage links in social media and shape the initial impression of an opponent before he or she can do it themselves,” Smith said.
A recent example popped up on some Missourians’ smartphones during the first Republican debate: A series of 10-second videos on the messaging platform Snapchat that portrayed Jason Kander, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, as a “pandering panda” who hobnobs with wealthy donors and special interests in Washington.