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Political Campaigns Turn To Grammys, Super Bowl And Other Live Events To Reach The Elusive Voter

Campaigns are finalizing their buys of local political ad time during the biggest live event of the year: the Super Bowl.

A few examples: Nikki Haley’s campaign has contracts for time during the kickoff on CBS stations in Charleston and Columbia, as she seeks a better-than-expected showing in the South Carolina primary later this month, according to records filed with the FCC. In California, Adam Schiff and Katie Porter have spots to run in Los Angeles during network’s day-long coverage.

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As in previously cycles, the primary season is taking place amid an early year calendar of major live sporting events as well as award shows, the latter of which was apparent last weekend, when Joe Biden’s presidential campaign bought up time in major battleground states during the Grammy Awards.

Other candidates, including Haley and congressional contenders, also bought time during the Grammys, which saw its ratings climb 34% to almost 17 million, according to Nielsen. That is a reversal of post-pandemic trends that have seen award show ratings in general sink, including this year’s Emmy telecast. But the Grammys had the benefit of Taylor Swift’s attendance — as did the AFC championship and as is expected for the Super Bowl — as well as a number of memorable performances.

According to John Link, VP of data at research firm AdImpact, there is an obvious difference in the types of voters campaigns are trying to reach in placing spots during and NFL playoff game and during the Grammys. The football games will try to reach “the elusive male voter,” while the Grammys tend to skew toward younger demographics, of 18-49 and 25-54, while the Oscars skew a little older. Some awards shows, like the Country Music Association Awards, will have higher viewership in certain markets over others.

“The common theme that we can relate to us that these live, tentpole-type events are used as part of marketing strategies to message to vast audiences in a condensed space,” Link wrote via email. “The reach potential for these events remains unmatched.” That said, the events have started to fragment between streaming, linear and others, “but the common theme is that audiences will follow these types of events in masses.”

Media consultant Brad Adgate said that the Biden campaign buy during the Grammys also reflects the fact that the primary race is all but over. “He has got the war chest. They can do these types of ads, strategically placed,” he said. The ad that ran during the Grammys focused on abortion rights, on a show that typically skews female.

Award shows are “event programming. They are not what they used to be, but they are going to be better than a lot of regularly scheduled programs,” he said.

Take as an example CBS’s Philadelphia station: According to the contract filed with the FCC, the Biden campaign bought the Grammy time for $6,000; that’s compared to $80,000 for a spot that ran during the previous week’s AFC championship. Still, that award show spend higher than for typical programming.

The Biden campaign also bought time during the Grammys at stations in Phoenix, Atlanta, Detroit, Raleigh, NC, Las Vegas and Milwaukee, all markets located in battleground states, according to FCC records.

Much more of a rarity is to do a national buy during live events, what with 30-second spots reportedly going for $7 million this year. But it has happened. Back in 2020, Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaigns bought spots during the big game, with both spending more than $10 million for the ad time. To some analysts, it was an unnecessary national expenditure in a time of increasing microtargeting. That year, the Kansas City Chiefs also faced off against the San Francisco 49ers. Bloomberg’s campaign lasted just over a month, and Trump went on to the chaotic year of Covid and was defeated in the fall.

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