In show of strength, Warren places $4.7 million TV ad buy for early 2020

The Warren campaign says it will spend eight-figure on TV and online ads.

September 27, 2019, 5:07 PM

With four months to go before the Iowa caucuses, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has become the first Democratic presidential contender to make a significant television ad buy for the critical early months of 2020.

The Warren campaign has reserved $4.7 million worth of airtime in the early primary and caucus states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina during January and February 2020, according to ad firm Advertising Analytics.

While the reserved airtime is subject to change depending on the campaign's needs closer to the day in question, the early purchase is both a show of confidence on the heels of Warren's steady rise in the polls. It could also be evidence of the Warren campaign's sizable war chest, which gives the campaign the luxury of making a big early investment when the rates of air time are lower than they might be as more campaigns snap up ad time closer to the days when voters head to the polls.

A poll from the Des Moines Register and CNN last weekend showed Warren virtually tied with Former Vice President Joe Biden and surging ahead of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

An ABC News poll from earlier this month -- prior to the third Democratic debate in Houston -- showed Biden, this summer’s front-runner, getting the support from 27% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, compared with 19% for Sanders and 17% for Warren.

The Warren campaign hinted at the big television buy earlier this week when it announced in a memo to supporters that it was making an eight-figure investment on both television and digital ads as they head to the fall.

U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren campaigns at a town hall event on the Student Union Lawn at Keene State College in Keene, NH on Sep. 25, 2019.
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

While Warren's 2020 ad buy makes the Massachusetts senator one of the top buyers of media advertising of any presidential campaigns in the cycle thus far, she has yet to launch her first television ad. Her rivals for the Democratic nomination -- including Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg -- have launched ad blitzes already.

The total ad spending in the 2020 Democratic field has been skyrocketing and is well over $55 million as of this week, with at least $43 million in digital spending and nearly $14 million on television ads from eight candidates that have gone on air, according to CMAG television ad occurrence data.

So far, the only other Democratic candidate who has spent eight figures on television and digital is California billionaire Tom Steyer, who has spent nearly $20 million -- $12 million on air time and $7 million on online ads.

The Buttigieg campaign is aggressively ramping up its ad blitz as well, placing six-figure television ads and topping Steyer on digital ads in recent weeks.

The Warren campaign did not give a breakdown of how much of the eight-figure budget would go toward which type of media -- or how many tens of millions they would sink into the effort. But campaign manager Roger Lau wrote in the memo that they planned to spent more on "digital than old-school broadcast television," in line with a trend of the 2020 cycle to focus more robust social media ad campaigns than traditional television ads.

In the memo, Lau also noted that much of the campaign's ad production and placement will be done through in-house staff, rather than the traditional consultant-driven operation that usually comes with big commissions and fees. In the past few months, the campaign has allocated a big chunk of its budget to increase its staffing.

The Warren campaign declined to comment beyond what was said in the memo.

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