Election 2016 is over and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump claimed the presidency in a victory that most pollsters didn’t see coming and that some are calling the greatest upset ever in American politics.
While political analysts will no doubt spend the coming days, weeks and months trying to understand in precise terms how Trump bested Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in a contest he wasn’t supposed to win, it’s probably not too early to declare: if President Barack Obama was the first social media president, President Elect Donald Trump is the first earned media president.
While Trump’s campaign upped its spending on television ads in the closing days of the election, his campaign was vastly outspent overall by Clinton’s campaign and the political action committees supporting it. According to data from Advertising Analytics, with two weeks left to go in the election, Clinton was still outspending Trump on television and radio ads by a three to one margin.
According to a CNN analysis of data from Kantar Media, “Three-quarters of the $342 million so far spent on television ads in the general election comes from Clinton’s campaign, super PAC, and allies.” At the same time, Trump was sitting on the sidelines for much of the election cycle. “Trump’s campaign, in contrast, is responsible for only 13% of ad spending. His campaign has spent only $44 million and a handful of groups supporting him has spent another $40 million, according to the data.”
As I noted in July, “conventional wisdom suggests that a presidential candidate can’t win a general election without hefty investment in paid media,” and Trump put this to the test in a big way that seemed almost sure to fail. His opponent raised over $1.3 billion for her White House bid according to Federal Election Commission filings, and the data made it clear that she was putting this money to work.
But despite its apparent improbability, it turns out that Trump’s trump card was earned media after all, much of it ironically generated by his willingness to criticize and attack the media itself.
Before the general election was even fully underway, it was estimated that Trump had generated over $2 billion in earned media. In a single month, he generated $400 million in earned media, more than Republican nominee John McCain spent on ads during his entire 2008 bid for the presidency.
Trump’s earned media generating power was broad based. From his prolific, unconventional and downright controversial use of social media to large rallies, the new President elect proved to be adept at capturing media coverage. While much of that media coverage was negative, particularly in the latter stages of the general election, there were signs weeks ago that Clinton’s paid ads were not effective enough and thus her inability to close the earned media gap made her vulnerable.
While the experts will have to explore and debate the reasons the Clinton campaign failed to live up to their expectations, just as President Obama’s 2008 campaign made it clear that future campaigns couldn’t ignore social media, President Elect Trump’s 2016 campaign has made it clear that future campaigns will not be able to ignore earned media.
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