Are There 81 Million Reasons to Sponsor a Debate?

By Adam Grossman

A record 81 million people watched last night’s Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. This makes the debate likely the most watched event of the year, except for the Super Bowl. However, unlike the Super Bowl, no advertisements were shown while the debate occurred.

This seems like a lost opportunity for companies looking to reach a large audience. In an era where television is more fragmented across platforms, channels, and devices than ever before, there are fewer situations where aggregating such a large audience around a single event is still possible. Advertisers not having the ability to communicate to people through television commercials in this situation seems like a lost opportunity.

This logic definitely holds true for many advertisers. The question remains: is bigger always better for advertisers? Traditional media evaluation focuses on the cost per thousand impressions (CPM). As the name implies, CPM examines how much money a company pays for every thousand impressions generated by an advertising opportunity. The more impressions that are generated, the lower the CPM and the better the value for the company purchasing advertising.

What is missing from this calculation is the quality, and not just quantity, of these impressions. In particular, are these impressions being seen by the right people at the right time in right place to achieve the objectives of an advertising campaign? Those objectives typically range from new customer acquisition to increasing brand awareness to enhancing brand awareness with a company’s existing or potential customers.   

Quality will mean different things for different companies. More specifically, no two companies are likely to share exactly the same goals or customers. Therefore, an advertising opportunity that makes sense for one company may not make sense for another company.

The debate is a good example of this effect. According to the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, the number of people between the ages of 50 and 64 years old watching debates is increasing while the number of people between the ages of 18 and 49 years old watching debates is decreasing. This means that companies that would benefit from targeting an older audience would have likely received the most value from the airing of a commercial during the debate.

Reaching a wide audience also is not necessarily a cost effective marketing approach for business-to-business (B2B) companies. B2B companies work with clients for which an individual or small team makes company-wide purchasing decisions. For many B2B companies, the vast majority of the 81 million people watching the debate would never be a client or make a purchasing decision. Marketing dollars are better spent using a targeted approach that maximizes exposure to a company’s likely clients rather than a large audience.

The ratings for the debate may have been huge, but huge ratings do not always translate to huge results. Examining the quality and quantity of impressions should be equally important when evaluating advertising opportunities.