Election 2016 from the advertising angle

Ad Age and Time Inc. are teaming up for an in-depth look at how the 2016 U.S. presidential elections are shaping up. The six-hour conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday will go beyond politics to tackle the ways in which earned and paid media have affected this unprecedented race.

The event will feature a keynote address by Tad Devine, senior adviser for the Bernie Sanders campaign, who is a longtime media consultant with experience producing TV ads in 20 election races. From the Republican side, political experts will review how Donald Trump has benefited from millions of dollars of free media and address how the Trump playbook will shape future campaigns. Other topics include how automated ad buying has affected political ads; the states, issues and races likely to dominate the cycle going forward; and how millennials are affecting the elections.

We spoke with Ad Age’s Ken Wheaton to get a preview of the discussion.

How have the changes in the digital media landscape in the past four years affected how this election is playing out?

Across the campaigns, everybody’s been trying a little bit of everything when it comes to digital.

For instance, the Sanders campaign bought Snapchat geofilters to get out the vote on primary day in New York. Hillary Clinton has been debuting video attack ads against Donald Trump on Twitter. The Trump campaign flirted with shooting a Trump speech in 360 video. And as part of a massive $150 million digital ad buy, the GOP actually planned to spend money on BuzzFeed ads—before BuzzFeed execs changed their minds and said no to the GOP dollars because it turns out BuzzFeed execs are no fans of The Donald.

The point is, all the campaigns are scrambling to figure out their digital strategies in real time. They’re throwing things at the digital wall and seeing what sticks. Which is a big part of the reason why we’re doing the Campaign 2016 conference with Time Inc.: To have an honest conversation about what’s actually working, and what’s not.

Has the value of the local TV ad spot diminished as a result of the rise of digital avenues to reach voters?

Ad Age had been working with Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG) to track TV and radio spending by the major candidates throughout the campaign. If you look at the money spent to date by the candidates, it’s clear the campaigns were/are all still convinced that spending big on local measured media remains incredibly important—particularly early in the primary season, when TV and radio stations in lucky states like New Hampshire were raking in the traditional ad dollars. Ad Age’s analysis of CMAG data puts spending on TV and radio in New Hampshire alone at $128,149,328 during the primary/caucus season. And we fully anticipate obscene amounts of money flowing toward broadcasters in swing states in the general election.

It's been reported that Bernie Sanders is engaging even more of the youth vote than did Barack Obama. To what extent is that a result of how millennials engage online and how candidates (and brands) can now reach them?

The Sanders campaign has certainly been doing outreach to millennials online—but also in the most old-fashioned way imaginable: in person, at rallies and stump speeches. Sure, give the Sanders campaign credit for its relative digital savvy, but arguably most of Bernie’s appeal to millennials has to do with his message and his platform. When Bernie Sanders said, “It’s Time to Make College Tuition Free and Debt Free,” he was speaking to millennials. Did they learn about that plan of his online? Probably.

To learn more about the conference or to attend, visit the event website.