Congressional Candidates Wasted $240 Million on TV in 2014

Direct mail and email appeals from political candidates currently swamping consumers are aimed at eliciting one thing: donations to fund expensive media campaigns. Until recently, that meant spending big on TV ads to achieve gross rating point objectives, but the 2016 elections should see a marked shift to more direct methods.

A study of media spending on 2014 Congressional races done by Google and Targeted Victory, a digital agency for Republican candidates, discovered that 75% of dollars spent on broadcast TV campaigns nationwide were wasted. The darkest shade of orange in the map above denotes areas where waste attained levels of 80% or more.

“You get an incredible amount of waste in big metros like Chicago where you go a few miles down the road and you’re in a new Congressional district,” says Targeted Victory co-founder Michael Beach. “So most of the people who see an ad broadcast on a Chicago station can’t even vote in that particular election.”

The 10th Congressional District in the northern suburbs of Chicago fielded the most wasteful race in the nation in 2014. Of the $19 million spent by candidates on TV ads, only $1.4 million-worth reached viable voters—a waste of 93%.

Broadcast dollars can be squandered just as easily in the hinterlands. The 1st District in Arizona comprises a large area of the state not including Phoenix and Tucson. But Phoenix and Tucson are where the broadcast TV stations are, so candidates threw away more than $14 million, or 89% of their spends, reaching citizens of those cities who couldn’t vote for them.

Candidates could have made more of their money with cable buys pegged to ZIP Codes, but Beach thinks the 2016 election cycle will instead see a huge migration to more targeted digital methods.

“Budgets will shift pretty radically into everything outside of TV, but digital technology is going to inform TV buys as well.” Beach says. “It’s predicted that $10 billion will be spent on political marketing in ’15 and ’16, meaning the GOP will spend $5 billion. If we can make our clients’ buys just 20% more efficient, those dollars will have a much greater effect.”

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