The political window: What is it and why should small businesses care?

More than 102 million viewers tuned in to watch Super Bowl LIV – and if you were one of those viewers, you likely saw Michael R. Bloomberg’s and Donald J. Trump’s political ads. Presidential politics and the Super Bowl typically don’t mix, but this year’s campaigns are breaking new ground.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The national ad buys for both Bloomberg and Trump were estimated to be around $10 million each. As The New York Times reported, it’s rare that campaigns purchase national ads since it’s usually a better strategy to target messages more locally. That’s why, if you own a small business and purchase ad spots from local TV stations, it’s important to be aware of how political campaign ads may have an impact on your own ad placements.

If you are working on a media buy strategy during an election year, here are three terms to know:

The political window

The period 45 days before a primary election (March 3, 2020) and 60 days before a general election (Nov. 3, 2020). During the political window, candidates can purchase time at the lowest unit station rates.

Lowest Unit Charge (or Lowest Unit Rate)

The guarantee that legally qualified candidates get the lowest rate for a political ad spot that is running on the station within a certain time, such as prime time, late night or drive time.

Reasonable access

Federal candidates are entitled to purchase reasonable amounts of time on all commercial broadcast stations, and candidates must be given access to all dayparts on a station. Keep in mind that political ads will be the first ads to run and cannot be bumped by law unless they’re sold out.

The main takeaway is that during these political windows, ad inventory will be low, which means your ads may be bumped to allow for political ads. Consider re-thinking your strategy to focus money and attention on digital media. Unless, of course, you have $10 million to spare.

For more information on political broadcasting guidelines, here are a couple helpful resources:

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