Strategy Briefing: How to Set Your Brand Up for Success in an Election Year

Lola Behrens, Content Marketing Manager


Andrew Richardson, SVP of Advanced Analytics & Measurement

Diana Perez, Senior Manager of Client Strategy

Natalia Fernandez, Director of Media Services

Kevin Goodwin, VP of Digital Marketing

April 9th, 2024

Advertising in an Election Year

In January, we shared our predictions for 2024 - the trends, technologies, and market factors we believe will play an instrumental role in shaping the digital marketing landscape this year. But there’s an important topic missing from this list, and it’s one that warrants a deep dive all on its own: the 2024 presidential election.

In this article, we tackle the challenges and considerations facing brands this election year. We’ll explore key variables driving the current social and political climate and provide guidance on how best to prepare your brand for the road ahead. Plus, in the coming weeks, we'll be launching the New Engen 2024 Election Dashboard to ensure that you have access to key insights in real-time. Here's a sneak peek of what's in store:

The Relationship Between Social Media and U.S. Elections

A November 2023 report from The Pew Research Center found that more than half of U.S. adults get at least some of their news from social media. These platforms were central to the discourse surrounding the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, and they will continue to drive public sentiment and galvanize voters in 2024.

According to consumer data from GWI, Millennial and Gen Z voters are exposed to political information through social media more than any other channel (including TV, news websites, family or friends, radio, newspapers, and podcasts). And for Gen Z, social media is the single-most important news source: 68% of Zoomers say they get their political news through social media, which dominates the next-highest input of family and friends at 37%.

So, what does this mean for brands? The heightened political discourse in 2024 is sure to escalate user engagement and time spent on social platforms, which provides brands with an opportunity to reach a wider audience. But it also comes with challenges, including elevated risks to brand safety.

Brands will need to enact the right measures to protect themselves on platforms where conversations are charged, and misinformation is pervasive. A February report from eMarketer shows that consumers are wary of brands that advertise on misinformation-spreading sites: 75% of respondents are deterred from these brands altogether, and many believe such placements reflect a brand’s values.

EMARKTER Chart: Expectations and Behaviors of US Consumers Toward a Brand's Responsibility in Managing Its Brand Value, Q3 2023

Fortunately, platforms like Meta, Google, and TikTok (to name a few) have taken steps to insulate advertisers from hot-button political issues and undesirable ad placements. In-platform tools like inventory filters give advertisers more control over where their ads are shown and next to what content. Even X is taking steps to try and assuage advertisers’ safety concerns, announcing on April 2nd that it has appointed a new head of safety (though X has a long way before it has any hope of earning back advertiser and user trust).

ICYMI 👀 Meta is facing backlash from Instagram users who are discovering that a new setting (launched in February) has been defaulted to limit political content shown on their feeds.

The (Mis)Information Age

Distrust remains a pressing issue in today's media landscape. A survey conducted by GWI found that 15% of U.S. respondents lack trust in any media source (a figure that is notably higher than what is observed in other countries). While this figure is staggering, it's not surprising - misinformation has become a fact of life and confronts American consumers every day. And, according to the same eMarketer article referenced above, consumers overwhelmingly point to social media as the primary source of fake news. You'll probably agree if you've ever rolled your eyes at a controversial meme or gone down a conspiracy theory rabbit hole (the recent frenzy surrounding Kate Middleton is a perfect example of how quickly conspiracy theories can break into the mainstream).

Another compounding factor to the runaway train of misinformation is the rise of artificial intelligence. Tools like generative AI have spurred new challenges, like enabling the mass creation of disinformation, deep-fake content, and spoofed voices. NewsGuard, a leading misinformation tracking organization, reports that false AI-generated articles have surged by more than 1,000% (from 49 sites to over 600) since May of 2023.

Brands should be mindful of consumer sentiment regarding misinformation and the role of AI in its proliferation. In practice, this means building brand trust with authentic, transparent messaging, and maintaining a vigilant approach to brand safety.

The Cost of Advertising in an Election Year

In 2024, we anticipate significant fluctuations in advertising costs, particularly in the lead-up to and aftermath of the election season. According to PQ Media, political media buying is projected to exceed $14 billion this year, nearly double the amount spent in 2016 (which totaled $7 billion). Prior to the November election, we’re likely to see CPMs surge, driven by expansions in retail media, influencer, DOOH, and CTV budgets.

Additionally, we must consider the substantial increases in ad spend from major players such as Temu and brands sponsoring sporting events like the Olympics. According to JP Morgan, Temu's ad strategy is set to spend approximately $3 billion in 2024, with a 76% share allocated to social media and the remainder being spent on display and video advertising. Moreover, the Paris Summer Olympics are forecasted to generate $1.8 billion in TV/CTV revenue alone, indicating another surge in costs expected from June through August (the Olympic Games will run from July 26th through August 11th). As a consequence of these highly anticipated events, and in combination with the 2024 election, we anticipate sustained CPM levels throughout the late summer and early fall - a deviation from the typical dip observed in non-election years. This is supported by historical trends that suggest post-election spikes in CPM rates, particularly during events like Black Friday/Cyber Monday.

📣 Stay tuned for further insights on the New Engen 2024 Election Dashboard, coming soon.

Three Ways to Prepare Your Brand for Success in an Election Year

1) Be proactive.

Embrace a forward-looking approach that allows you to address challenges as they arise, leveraging historical data and current KPI trends to build predictive models. Stay agile and be prepared to adapt your brand strategy, particularly if your audience is highly concentrated on platforms where costs are expected to rise significantly. Consider testing alternative channels with fewer CPM concerns, like affiliate, programmatic display and video, or native advertising. Diversification is key, so invest early in robust testing that will help identify the channels best suited to your brand’s needs and objectives.

Plan on deploying election-year measures over the summer so that you can identify opportunities or address challenges while there’s still time to respond. And if you’re planning on making an awareness play, it will be much cheaper to do so in the months leading up to Q4.

2) Know your audience.

Audience-led strategies can help ensure that your ad dollars are being spent on the most relevant and engaged audience segments. Refine audience personas based on demographic, behavioral, and psychographic data to optimize ad performance and minimize wasted spend. Leverage these findings to inform your channel diversification approach, brand messaging, and creative mix - each of which will be key to reaching the right audience and cutting through the noise of a busy election year.

(Plus, don’t forget to implement CVR drivers like Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL), SEO optimizations, and seamless checkout experiences, all of which contribute to a stronger purchasing motor).

3) Champion brand safety.

Deploy safety measures within your campaigns to prevent unwanted ad placements. Take advantage of strategic controls within platforms and implement alerts and rules to manage spend efficiently. Monitor discussions, trends, and brand mentions to maintain a constant pulse on public perception. This will enable you to address issues swiftly and appropriately, and help preserve your credibility with consumers.

The Takeaway

Tactical and strategic recommendations aside, our final piece of advice comes down to mindset. Brands and business leaders should approach the coming months with resilience and strategic foresight. Amidst the heightened atmosphere of an election (not to mention shifting consumer behaviors and continued economic uncertainty), customer relationships and brand loyalty are paramount to success. Champion innovative solutions that will enhance your conversion motor. Diversify revenue streams and embrace agile strategies that will allow you to adapt to market fluctuations and better position your brand. This mentality, combined with strategic measures like the ones outlined above, will allow brands to weather the challenges ahead - and emerge stronger and more resilient than they were before.

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