American overexposure: Political advertising on TV in 2020

Ad saturation for American households is another major issue – on every possible channel and every platform, Americans are being bombarded with political messaging. In September the average US household watched more than 103 political ads on TV, but that’s only part of the story. The realities of the political map mean that these households aren’t created equal – 25% of American households have seen 80% of the political ads shown. Households in Montana, Iowa, New Mexico, and Arizona saw the worst of it, being exposed to an average of more than 400 political TV commercials in the month leading into the first presidential debate.

In terms of breadth of exposure, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina have seen the broadest exposure, with more than six in 10 addressable households having seen one or more ads.

As we mentioned earlier, Political Junkies make up about 17% of the political audience reachable through TV and, so far, about 69% have been reached with 10+ political ads in the past month. Occasionals make up the largest percentage of the audience (61%), but only 53% have seen 10+ political TV ads in the past month.

Smaller battleground and swing states are seeing the worst of it – Montana in particular, where a focus on the senate battle between incumbent Steve Daines and Governor Steve Bullock (as well as the house and gubernatorial races) is seeing advertisers pour money into the state. As a result, the average TV household in Montana has seen a massive 750 political ads in the last 30 days. 

Iowa and Michigan are both among the top states by volume and have some of the most concentrated DMAs in the country. An average home in the Cedar Rapids DMA has seen 260 political ads in the last 30 days, while households in Detroit have seen 210.

TV ad delivery in Iowa, last 30 days

Linear vs OTT

  • The bulk of these ads – 87% – are being served via traditional linear TV, with ABC local affiliates seeing the largest share of ads shown. On a per-channel basis, FOX News has the highest volume by a considerable margin, showing 15 political ads per hour over the last 30 days.

What can advertisers do?

  • Breaking through the clutter requires a cross-channel strategy, understanding which channels are oversaturated and which ones are cleaner and allow messaging to stand out.
  • Don’t concede saturated markets – fight for those eyeballs up through the election.
  • Not all households are created equal and so your strategy shouldn’t treat them as such, either – have a plan to identify voters who are under-reached by your current TV buys and find ways to reach them either through other linear TV content or on other platforms/channels via an integrated TV and digital plan.

Viewer and viewership data comes from a sample of 15 million Vizio households. Digital activity comes from MiQ’s log-level integration with DSPs. Data from September, 2020