The Impact of the 2012 Election on the Digital Media Landscape

The 2012 general election will be held on Tuesday, November 6.

  • It will include a presidential election
  • Every seat (435) in the U.S. House of Representatives is up for reelection
  • There will be 33 Senate races
  • There will be 11 gubernatorial races

And it is very important to digital media professionals…

I started thinking about writing this column the traditional way; seeking research and qualified insight from other professionals. Then I got a call from a family member Sunday morning. I told him I was writing about how the 2012 election will affect the digital industry. Said family member (let’s call him Roger) is very much a savvy political junkie, which I am not, so I asked his thoughts on the subject.

Roger tells me he had just been watching an ABC News broadcast on the candidates and their current popularity. A portion of the discussion was debating the fact that Herman Cain was still in the running; not due to tremendous financial and traditional backing, but likely because of his support across unconventional social environments.

Why do I think this is important? Because I’m not surprised and neither was Roger, which was the enlightening part. To give you some background, Roger just signed up for Facebook and bought a smartphone in the past year. The increasing comfort level of the average consumer and the candidates is a great indication of what 2012 has in store.

Tremendous Digital Growth Since 2008

The 2008 presidential election started a movement in the digital space; candidates and voters used digital media as a mechanism for knowledge and communication:

  • 46 percent of Americans used the Internet to get news and share their views, 35 percent watched political videos, and 10 percent used social networking.
  • Candidates used social as a tool for debates, hoping to increase support among a younger demographic.

The 2010 mid-term election gained further traction. Twitter made an appearance and mobile played a prominent role as a mechanism for instant knowledge and sharing:

  • Internet usage increased another 8 percent, 22 percent of Americans used social networking or Twitter, and 26 percent of Americans used their cellphones for access, according to Pew Research.
  • Digital also became an environment for candidates to increase visibility at the last minute.

The 2012 Presidential Election Will Be Game-Changing

It already is game-changing: with this much activity early on, digital media professionals should be planning ahead.

In the traditional media landscape, the election period is a studied and researched phenomenon. It’s known that broadcast inventory will increase in price, and advertisers can expect to be bumped by political coverage during certain times across specific geographies. Digital has historically been a little different.

However, with such a colossal shift in approach by candidates and voters, it is my belief that there will be a larger impact. Many of the major media properties I spoke to (aside from major news vehicles) could not quantify the expected affect, but I have a few predictions:

  • Yes, prices will increase, but not just on CNN or ABC News. It will also increase in biddable environments like Google, Facebook, and potentially ad exchanges as candidates become more competitive.
  • Content will be vital as the consumer seeks instant gratification. So if you’re going to be present within political coverage, provide some form of value.
  • The digital experience, similar to content, will be of utmost importance.

None of what I outlined is groundbreaking, but it’s easy to forget these aspects when such a large event takes place. As advertisers, we want to be where we can get the right consumer in quantity, whether it is the elections, Olympics (another biggie next year), holidays, etc. But the consumer is much more savvy and demanding of us.

I look forward to the research that comes out of the 2012 elections; I expect it will set standards we can’t even fathom for 2016.

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