Clinton fills Olympics airtime with ads as Trump sits on sidelines
New York billionaire spurns spending on Olympics to match rival
Hillary Clinton wants to get as close as possible to Michael Phelps and Simone Biles. So she’s spending more than $13 million on political ads at the Olympics — while Donald Trump is sitting on the sidelines.
The Democratic presidential nominee is taking advantage of the millions of Americans tuned in to watch the champion swimmer and gymnast, as well as other US athletes, rack up medals during the Summer Games in Rio. Republican Trump, meanwhile, hasn’t aired a single general election ad yet — a decision that baffles some political strategists.
“I’d love to know what they’re waiting for,” said Will Ritter, a Republican ad maker and veteran of Mitt Romney’s presidential bids. Trump’s avoidance of political norms such as advertising “cannot survive the professionalized deconstruction that Hillary is doing every day,” he said.
Clinton’s multimillion-dollar investment meant that across the US, viewers captivated by coverage of top events like swimming and women’s gymnastics, saw her commercials in prime time each of the past three nights, Kantar Media’s political advertising tracker shows.
During the three weeks of Olympics coverage, her campaign is spending US$8 million on the national NBC network, $1.1 million more on affiliated cable channels Bravo, USA and MSNBC and $4.5 million on local affiliates in key presidential battleground states such as Florida, according to the tracker.
Sunday’s Olympics ratings for NBC averaged 29.8 million viewers — a very significant audience.
While Trump’s campaign has requested advertising rates from stations in key states, including Florida, the Olympics are slipping beyond his reach.
One Clinton ad in heavy rotation is an awkward clip from his appearance on David Letterman’s former late-night show. The host holds up Trump shirts and ties and points out that they were made in Bangladesh and China, not America. Trump smiles sheepishly.
The Clinton campaign also is airing a new ad about her economic plan, which a narrator says would create millions of new jobs.
Her commercials caught viewers nationwide who tuned in Saturday for the US men’s water polo match against Croatia, and those who watched rowing, beach volleyball and road cycling on Sunday.
In addition to the nationwide spots, Clinton’s Olympics-targeted ads aired on local television during Friday’s lengthy opening ceremony in battleground states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Iowa.
NBC sold its Olympics advertising in packages — most of which were locked down months ago, said Ben Angle, a senior media buyer at National Media who isn’t connected to the 2016 presidential race. The higher the spending, the more likely the ads are to land in premium slots, such as the prime time marquee competitions.
At a rally in New Hampshire over the weekend, Trump bragged about how he has spent nothing on ads as Clinton has made a major outlay.
“It’s a little early to spend,” Trump said. “You know it’s like the racehorse, right? Hangs back, hangs back, hangs back. And I think we’ve got some pretty good ads. But we don’t want to go too fast.”
But the imbalance is a striking change from four years ago, when then-cash-strapped Romney and his allies scrounged up an estimated $18 million to match what President Barack Obama was spending to advertise during the three weeks of the London Games, according to Kantar Media.
Clinton is following Obama’s Olympics playbook. The president debuted several commercials during the games in 2012, a mix of positive messages about his presidency and contrasts with Romney.
While Romney and his allies also focused on the London Games, the GOP nominating convention was still weeks away, putting money he raised for his general election campaign out of reach.
A pro-Romney super political action committee, Restore Our Future, did air an ad featuring Olympic athletes talking about his business sense. After all, he was tapped to run the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, the first after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
“We made the determination the Olympics offered a large captive audience who weren’t channel surfing,” former Restore Our Future leader Carl Forti said. “And in the case of Mitt Romney, we had a candidate who turned around the Salt Lake Olympics and had a unique story to tell.”
There are a few pro-Trump groups doing a relatively minor amount of advertising.
Rebuilding America Now is spending about $2 million in the first three weeks of this month, but has nothing on the national NBC network. Its spending is concentrated on national cable and in four states: Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, Kantar Media shows.