Ad buy

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Ad buy refers to a campaign messaging strategy that targets potential voters via paid media advertisements. Historically, the most common form of ad buying has been over broadcast television, and the decision concerning when and how much advertising space to purchase is typically handled by a campaign's media consultant. Ad buys can also be done on digital platforms, which some campaigns use to target specific sets of voters based on their internet search key terms and self-defined interests on social media.

Television ad purchasing

Television ad purchases typically run for 30 seconds at a time, a contrast to the 60-second purchase that is typical for radio. Television ad buys are done with the following factors as partial considerations:

  • Number of potential voters reached by the ad
  • The cost of purchasing an ad in a particular television market
  • Timing of an ad's airing

Targeted audience

According to Campaigns and Elections, a television ad buy primarily involves decisions about which demographics should be targeted in a particular media market and how to best target that audience. In February 2011, they wrote:[1]

Targeting television is not so much a matter of reach—most broadcast campaigns will quickly rise above 90 percent—but of which voters should receive which messages with higher frequency. ... Because the viewers of different programs have different demographic profiles, you can narrowcast a given message to a specific demographic by placing ads on specific programs and time periods. Alternatively, you can employ 'divergence' by placing a variety of messages in all time periods and on every station, which means you will reach a broader audience including all likely voters.[2]

Gross rating points

The reach of a potential advertisement is understood in terms of gross rating points (GRP), a measure that tells campaign pollsters and media consultants the audience size for a particular spot in a particular market. According to Nielsen Media Research, GRP "is used to measure the exposure to one or more programs or commercials, without regard to multiple exposures of the same advertising to individuals. One GRP = 1% of TV households."[3]


According to Winning Campaigns, a strategy website for political campaigns, television ads are also timed to have the most impact within the last 45 days of a campaign. In the 45 days before a primary election and 60 days before a general election, according to federal regulations, stations must offer the lowest unit rate (LUR) for advertising, giving the candidates the lowest rate available for all advertisers. As a result, Winning Campaigns notes, many campaigns buy television ads in these days, and most voters only start to pay significant attention to political television ads in the last 14 days of a campaign.[4]

Internet-based advertising

Ad buys for internet platforms and social media—like Facebook, Twitter, and Google searches—cost less than advertising over television but reach a smaller potential audience. Vincent Harris, founder of the conservative consulting company Harris Media, outlined the differences in digital advertising in 2010, noting that Google search or Facebook ads were effective in targeting specific audiences. Google search ads, he argued, allowed for a cost-effective way to reach a larger audience based on keywords in a search or site's content. Facebook ads, he said, were effective in targeting self-identified supporters of particular causes; Harris added that these ads allow campaigns to "identify and target people who are in 100% agreement with your values system, regardless of your ideology."[5]


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