Reaching Audiences During the 2016 Election Campaign


Michigan’s primary election quickly approaches. In just a few weeks, each municipality will be flooded with voters as the United States determines the final presidential candidate. Election years are always an interesting time in the advertising world, and this year is no different.

Trying to describe the “average American” is becoming increasingly difficult and fragmented media consumption – while great for niche markets – poses a challenge to reaching large audiences of voters. What trends and processes do parties and candidates need to consider during this year’s campaign, and what can year-round advertisers learn from cyclical events like this?

Fair and Even – The Classic Method

Political ads are subject to different regulations than typical year-round advertisers. These regulations are in place to discourage favoritism and create a fair playing field for everyone. The Michigan Campaign Finance Act regulates advertisements from those that are already in political office. School districts, elected officials and municipalities are subject to this special grouping of laws. They prevent those in a position of power from heavily swaying decisions one way or another. According to the Act, any of the above mentioned parties are to only provide factual information in relation to issues on the ballots. That’s why you may see an ad from a local school that simply says “Vote” rather than “Vote Yes on Proposal 2.”

Diverse and Growing – Keeping up with Today’s Tech

This year’s election will be unlike any we’ve seen before. In 2015, the entire Millennial age group (18-34 years old) reached legal voting age. Millennials currently make up the majority of the American work force and more than one-quarter of the overall population. They are the most diverse generation to vote, and also have the most fractured media consumption experience. Social media, on-demand streaming and pocket-sized computers disguised as phones have changed the way Millennials consume news and advertisements, and what interruptions they will accept before becoming frustrated and switching devices.

Holding the Boom

Though the Millennial audience will be a crucial part of the election, the older generations have still been voting for longer. They know how early to get to the polls, are more aware of voting dates and take advantage of the absentee voter ballot option (request yours here). The Baby Boomers are still getting their information from traditional news sources, like television, print and radio. They also have a significant presence on Facebook, which is generally dominated by an older audience, while younger social media users gravitate towards more niche platforms like Instagram and Twitter.

Reaching the First-time Voters

In an increasingly fragmented landscape, Snapchat saw an opportunity to become more than a selfie-focused app by changing the way news is delivered. Since the political season began, Snapchat’s team of journalists (including Peter Hamby, formerly of CNN) attends the major events and rallies to provide a real-time account of what is happening on the campaign trail. Though the ten-second videos alone cannot provide all the necessary information, they do give audiences easily digestible snippets of the campaigns. There’s not a much better way to fill in the disconnect between devices than that.

One benefit of having so many different platforms available to candidates is that there is a great opportunity to reduce marketing fatigue, which occurs when ads perform worse after multiple are shown within a short time period. Any political party working with an advertiser should know that messages and creative need to be adjusted for the platform on which they are placed. While all ads may have a similar tone, slight differences across platforms could prevent the average American from rolling their eyes at the ads by time November rolls around.

Since the 2012 election, we’ve seen advertising change to more precisely target audiences while fragmenting them further. Though presidential candidates will always need the national scale of traditional avenues, smaller, local parties can benefit from the niche technologies to reach the voters they need.