Navigating Election Season Advertising Chaos: 4 Tips for Small Businesses (Hint: You Can Still Reach Your Customers)

08.20.2020 Cox Media

The big spending of election cycles can throw regular business advertising into chaos, especially when it comes to TV advertising. As the 2020 election season ramps up, experts are forecasting up to $10 billion in political ad spending—a massive jump from the approximately $6 billion spent in 2016.

A large share of that political spending is flooded into fixed TV ad inventories, which can create a challenging situation for businesses that use that ad inventory to connect with their customers. As political dollars flood the market, the increased competition can spark a rise in advertising costs that drives many businesses away—especially local businesses that lack the means to keep pace with this spending.

But bowing out of advertising altogether brings costs of its own. When you rely on an advertising and marketing strategy to generate new customers and drive revenue for your business, you take on a significant amount of risk by abandoning these campaigns until the end of the election cycle. There are certain steps your business can take to minimize the fallout stemming from the political ad season without disappearing from the ad landscape altogether.

Here are four tips to steer clear of election cycle chaos while still getting value out of your ad strategy.


While political campaigns advertise across the full spectrum of digital channels, those campaigns—especially major state-wide and national campaigns—lean heavily toward broadcast TV inventory that offers the largest reach among the voting population. The cost of broadcast inventory is typically beyond the budgetary limits of many small businesses, but cable TV, as well as on-demand content and other streaming services, can still offer value to your business.

An advertising partner can help you identify TV ad inventory capable of delivering value while fitting your TV advertising budget. Adjust your ad strategy as needed to optimize your ad spending amid the increased market activity created by the election, maintaining visibility among your target audience during a challenging ad season.


TV advertising is one element of a small business ad strategy, but even in a non-election season, it shouldn’t be your only option for connecting with your customers. If TV ad options become limited or cost-prohibitive, you should lean even harder on other digital channels that raise awareness and drive customer interactions for your business.

Social media, audio advertising, owned media channels, online display ads and even radio advertisements can help your business maintain visibility with its customer base. At the same time, the constraints created by competitive TV advertising can be an opportunity to experiment with new ad strategies, and potentially identify new channels and methods that elevate your overall advertising ROI.

While you don’t want to abandon TV advertising entirely, you might benefit from adjusting your mix of campaign spending to account for changes occurring during the election cycle. Once the election season ends, you can resume your previous strategy, or make long-term strategic adjustments based on new insights gleaned from your latest ad campaigns.


Audience targeting tools can help you refine your ad campaigns to ensure you’re only spending on your highest-value customers. If certain advertising costs do rise during election season, your business can shift its advertising focus to the customer segments that offer the greatest ROI for your business.

Targeting can encompass many different methods, depending on the advertising channel you’re using. While digital platforms like social media offer many different data points to isolate and target the most relevant possible audience, cable TV advertising offers targeting that uses niche TV programming interests, as well as geographic targeting through smaller zones within a designated market area (DMA). By honing in on your best customers and most likely revenue opportunities, you can raise the bar for ROI even as certain advertising costs rise.


The advertising frenzy around election season can be disorienting and overwhelming—especially if you’re a younger business facing these challenges for the first time. While the uncertainty of this competitive landscape might prompt some small business owners to stay on the sideline until Election Day passes, backing out of advertising altogether puts your brand’s reputation and visibility at risk—and gives your competition an opportunity to reinforce itself in the minds of your target audience.

While election season might force changes to your advertising strategy, don’t back down from this challenge. A little creative thinking—and the right advertising partner—can help you navigate this process and come out even stronger than before. Contact us today to see how we can help.

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Cox Media

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