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A brand marketer’s guide to victory in a U.S. presidential election year

A bald eagle with a megaphone for a head carries a finger cursor as red, white and blue stripes follow it.

Illustration by Nick DeSantis / Shutterstock / The Current

With less than a year until Election Day in the U.S., the 2024 race is already well underway. Every week brings a new set of statements and stunts from candidates looking to define themselves in a crowded field. Soon enough, political paid media will take over, with an unprecedented $11 billion expected to be spent on ads up and down the ticket.

Every election cycle, this surge of political spending transforms both market and message dynamics. More than just increasing the competition for inventory, this heavy boost in spend shifts consumption patterns and helps shape the national conversation. Key issues are amplified — and often weaponized — so advertisers need to tread carefully with a sharp messaging sensibility. Plus, the accelerated pace of spend and short political calendar leads to rapid innovation in the space, as platforms and publishers hone and update their offerings.

Consistent with advancements seen this year, I expect innovation throughout this election cycle to be focused on the rise of AI, cross-screen ad coordination, and sophisticated ad targeting.

With the amount of buzz around Generative AI (GenAI), it’s no surprise GenAI is also expected to have an impact on this election run. In addition to enabling campaign managers to produce an unprecedented volume of content, it also presents a greater than ever risk for disinformation. This presidential election will be a major test of both output quality and advertising platform policies.

Further, 2024 will be the first election in which less than half of America has a traditional pay-TV subscription. At the same time, total screen time has increased since 2020 because people are streaming and consuming content in a fractured marketplace. Spend should flow toward platforms that can accurately link the two worlds, controlling frequency and message at scale, while also measuring incremental reach.

Lastly, Google’s final “death of the cookie” deadline and new state privacy laws will collide this election cycle. Campaigns, which usually set the standard for microtargeting and message personalization, will need to adapt to new identifiers, methods of targeting, and data integrations. Tactics that are battle tested in the election and win the day will likely become standard in the future.

With all this in mind, here are three ways brand advertisers can prepare for 2024 as the U.S. presidential election buzz takes over the national landscape.

1. Adjust for competition and volatility.

The presidential election cycle has a unique rhythm. Spend is concentrated in key states around the primary election calendar, with a few major clusters early in the year. The floodgates start to open in September 2024 — and it’s not uncommon for a campaign to spend half its budget in the last month alone.

If your campaign is running in an early primary or a battleground state, throw the usual seasonal pricing trends out the window. Brands should have a focused reservation strategy, plan well ahead, and focus their negotiations as much on base rates as on avoiding seasonal increases. Then comes the question of platform and publisher policies around political ads — which means increased competition won’t hit all platforms equally. While outlets that restrict political ads will miss out on major revenue, buying in places — whether publishers or supply-side platforms — that don’t accept political ads can drive outsized value for corporate advertisers.

2. Your message may hit differently — and you might become a target.

Customers, policymakers, and regulators don’t consume your brand message in a vacuum. As the election brings key issues to the forefront, from climate to taxation to small businesses to wage growth, your previously successful or innocuous campaign might take on new meaning.

Your brand may also become a target, regardless of how “political” you are. If you’re a market leader, you are on folks’ radars. This doesn’t mean that corporate advertisers should keep their heads down — staying silent is just as risky as speaking up, and elections are a time to lean into your values, not away from them.

Fortunately, keeping an eye on your mentions is easier than ever. Most major ad platforms now offer political transparency reports that disclose all political spend and creative, which can help you understand what’s being said about you, your industry, and competitors, and at what volume. Dedicating analytics resources to monitoring these will be particularly important in 2024.

3. Take advantage of innovation.

Presidential campaigns are some of the fastest-moving startups, with a clearly defined mission, measurable metrics, and a zero-sum outcome. As a result, every four years, we see huge leaps in innovation around targeting, data, and creative — driven by campaigns as well as new ad tech and marketing tech offerings designed to capture political spend.

This op-ed represents the views and opinions of the author and not of The Current, a division of The Trade Desk, or The Trade Desk. The appearance of the op-ed on The Current does not constitute an endorsement by The Current or The Trade Desk.