Political advertising media and their advantages and disadvantages

Choose the right political advertisement for your campaign

Choosing the right political advertisement for your political campaign can mean the difference between winning and losing. Which political advertising media a campaign chooses largely depends on its strategic goals, objectives and of course the budget. In the following you will find a very general overview of the most common modern communication media for candidate campaigns and their advantages and disadvantages. Remember, the key to success is often getting a cohesive message across multiple advertising media instead of placing all of your hopes on just one method of communication.

watch TV

Television is often seen as a “must do” by traditional policy advisers. There are a couple of pretty straightforward professionals on TV explaining why. It offers an impressive opportunity to motivate people with images and sound and can be played in front of a large audience. Also, unlike many digital ads, you can’t fast-wind through a TV commercial when you’re watching live TV (although you can switch channels).

The disadvantages of television are also clear. The markets for television media are often quite large, and television currently offers limited target technology. It is likely that at least some of the people who see your ad will find it not relevant to them. They may not even be eligible to vote for you which is a waste of money. Television can also be prohibitively expensive, especially if you are running for office in a large media market like New York City.

Direct mail

Direct mail is a proven method for targeted political advertising. One of the main advantages of direct mail is that it is scalable to a wide variety of budgets. With modern data targeting techniques, direct mail is also very precise. You can often send emails to specific voters that you want to target. For example, you can get a electoral roll of people who are likely to vote in your upcoming election or people who will vote sometimes but may be more convincing to your message. Since you address certain people and have their names and addresses, Mail also offers many test options. Once the voting is over, you will be able to see how many people on your mailing list voted and the rate at which they voted compared to a control group that did not receive any communications from you. Email is more likely to affect the elderly, which is a plus considering they are more likely to vote than younger ones.

One disadvantage of direct mail is the fact that your audience isn’t as captured as they are on TV or radio. This means you will have to work to make your piece stand out from all other piles of mail. While there are ways to track engagement (BRM cards, phone call tracking, etc.), direct mail doesn’t provide some of the metrics and reports that apply to digital advertising, for example. For example, it can be difficult to tell if one message is performing better than another for people because you don’t get a lot of feedback on emails that don’t have a reply device.


Standard terrestrial radio is another traditional method of political advertising. Some of the advantages of radio are the fact that it can be played to a captive audience (at work, in the car, etc.) and is reasonably priced both in production and for the cost of airtime.
One notable disadvantage of traditional radio is that there is no real way to target who is receiving your ad, as it is as far and wide as the signal is being transmitted. There is also no way to keep track of who has heard your ad. As a result, you can seldom be able to determine exactly whether your radio campaign was effective. The most you can get is anecdotal data from people you speak to at the doors if you ask them if they heard any of your ads.

Digital displays

Digital advertising (including pre-roll, social media banner ads, digital radio, etc.), while much newer than previous media, is now widely used as a communication medium for candidates. Digital advertising has many advantages. In terms of budget, it is the most scalable medium as almost any amount can be spent on a digital campaign. That means digital should be a part of pretty much every candidate campaign, even if you’re just driving posts on Facebook. It also provides precise targeting as well as detailed reports and metrics to demonstrate the effectiveness of an ad, often in real time. These metrics usually include things like click rate, video completion rate, and when you watch social media, post comments and reactions, etc. Another plus with digital is that new types of ads are being created all the time. Simple static ads are now only one option among animated display ads, digital video, digital radio, affiliate television, and native advertising. With geo-fencing, you can create a virtual “fence” around a geographic location (such as a polling station) and serve ads to people on their mobile devices when they are within a certain radius of that location.

The drawbacks include the fact that static digital displays generally have limited storage space and therefore have limited opportunities to expand a problem, although video, audio, and native displays can fix that problem. Also, since online privacy laws prevent anyone from knowing who exactly saw your ad, it’s harder to tell how digital advertising affects GOTV. Another thing that can hinder a political campaign is the incredibly wide range of creative and targeted options. There is a tendency to hyper-target digital ads, but you can miss out on potential voters if you do too much. Rural areas can be difficult to reach with digital displays as people’s internet access can vary widely. In some cases, these geographic areas are better served by more traditional media such as mail, television and terrestrial radio.

Pressure ads

Like radio and direct mail, print ads have long been part of communicating with candidates. Print ads share many of the same characteristics as radio, with the benefit of potentially reaching a wide audience (depending on the publication).

We don’t normally recommend using print ads for political advertising, but there are some very specific use cases. For example, if you are in a very bad campaign and know that your local community reads a publication regularly, this can help you get your name out there. One of the major drawbacks to print advertising is the fact that it offers little in the way of tracking how people are responding to them or performing potential news tests.

What is the best form of political advertising? To be honest, they answer “more than one”. By sending your message across multiple media, you are less likely to miss the people you want to reach. A layered approach also increases the number of times people are exposed to your message, making them more likely to remember it. You should think about the demographic and geographic makeup of your district to determine which communication methods they are likely to respond to and prioritize your spending based on what you think will be the greatest reach and other needs. As with reporting / tracking, your campaign can have such data.

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