Avoiding Election Aftershock: Guiding Your Brand Through 2024


Rick Lyke

Executive Vice President, Public Relations and Public Affairs

We’re five months away from what is likely to go down in history as one of the most contentious Presidential races of all time. The Nov. 5th election will also determine control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, along with many gubernatorial and state legislature races and hot-button statewide and local ballot initiatives. If the recent primary elections are any indication, we should anticipate a highly charged atmosphere.

A recent study by Forrester found that 82% of B2C marketing executives are concerned about marketing their brands during the current election cycle—so if you’ve been thinking about it, you’re far from alone. To build a strategy that accounts for 2024’s election turbulence, brands need to actively consider a slew of issues.

And now is the time to start. We recommend scheduling strategy meetings in June to discuss advertising, marketing, public relations, promotional, communications or event activity planned for 30-60 days before Election Day. Contingency plans for when balloting is completed, and when elected officials are sworn in in January, should be created to temper the current climate of heightened polarization, escalating culture wars and an unrelenting partisan news environment.

1. Rising Media Costs and Low Inventory: According to eMarketer, political ad spending from candidates and political action committees is expected to reach $12.3 billion in 2024, a nearly 30% increase from the last Presidential election cycle. Data from the last two elections suggests that 50% of that spending will take place during the 30 days leading up to Nov. 5th. This will drive up costs across most media outlets—estimates are 15% to 50% depending on the market—and result in very tight inventories. This will be especially true in battleground swing states, including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Contested ballot initiatives and tight races for key seats in other states will add to media market congestion as voting draws closer.

2. Reduced News Media Bandwidth: We expect newsrooms, already strained by staff reductions, will find it very difficult in the weeks leading up to the election to find room to cover other news. This means garnering earned media coverage for a product launch, new facility opening or key executive hire will be very challenging. Of course, focus on voting and limited media resources might mean that some companies may find Nov. 5th the perfect time to release negative news in the hopes it won’t be noticed.

3. Social Media Platform Disruption: Like traditional broadcast and print outlets, social platforms will experience a major uptick in political advertising. Keep in mind that early voting begins in some states four weeks before election day and organic posts during the runup to Nov. 5th may take on divisive overtones. Election officials and outside observers are warning about the potential for increased deepfakes and misleading posts connected to the election. Additionally, certain campaigns might be flagged for review because they relate to hot-topic election issues, resulting in extended approval times.  A disrupted social media environment may be the norm as the election approaches.

4. Customer Focus, Fatigue and Flight: As we get closer to the election, time-starved customers and other key audiences will be increasingly distracted. Some will focus nearly exclusively on election news and may increase engagement with print, broadcast and digital media. Another group will grow tired and tune out. A Pew Research study heading into the 2020 Presidential election found 55% of U.S. social media users said they were “worn out” by political posts, up from 37% during the 2016 race. Other people, like they did during the pandemic, will turn to other options like streaming services to binge-watch movies and series. The Paris 2024 Olympics in late July/early August could serve as an early disruptor of regular media consumption habits. Even if people do not change their media usage, the overall cluttered environment presents a challenge.

5. Scammers Take Advantage: With tight inventories, brands using programmatic advertising are likely to encounter a new crop of made-for-advertising (MFA) websites set up to take in media dollars in return for little or no value. MFA sites have become more sophisticated and are available on most ad exchanges. The Association of National Advertisers estimated that in 2023 MFA sites acquired 21% of programmatic advertising, meaning one in five dollars spent were largely wasted. New MFA sites pop up overnight and require advertisers to have sophisticated safeguards in place to build exclusion lists to protect media budgets.

6. Metrics Will Shift: Year-over-year tracking numbers for many key metrics will be influenced by the election. Expect your return on investment (ROI) data to take a hit if you approach the fall with a business-as-usual approach.

7. Guard Against Unforced Errors: Remind employees about company policies and workplace rules regarding political activity, time off to vote and the need for civility. Review regular activities and standard media schedules to determine if any might be viewed as unintended political statements. Take a fresh look at existing creative or new campaigns with an eye and ear toward how they might be received. Assure compliance with regulations regarding corporate political activity.

8. Vitriol is Not a Virtue: In this supercharged political season, your brand is at risk. You don’t want your company to be the next culture wars casualty. While it might feel like keeping a low profile and staying neutral on every issue is the safest path, research shows that customers, employees and other stakeholders prefer doing business with brands they trust and that they feel reflect their values. Now is the perfect time to review your company’s mission, vision and values to be sure they are aligned with corporate actions. Company policies and ESG, CSR and DEI stances are not political statements. The more authentic your brand and the more transparent you are with key audiences the less potential there is for damage from the culture wars.

9. Going Dark is Not the Answer: While there are ample reasons to consider pulling back on marketing and communications, the reality is that life goes on: Customers will still be making purchase decisions and your competitors are likely to be active. Adopting a strategy that factors in the increased media costs and distraction factor of the 2024 election cycle and uses selective timing and targeting can help keep your brand safe and active from a messy, heated environment.

    The 2024 election cycle is full of unique brand challenges. Everything from increased media costs and constrained inventory to social media disruptions and distracted audiences will shift how brands tackle their marketing strategies. But it also offers a unique opportunity: One to authentically connect with stakeholders by reinforcing your brand’s mission, vision and values.

    Hey! Our name is pronounced Mōw-rrr, like this thing I’m pushing.

    The PopUp Link