Advertisers Flock to Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton Presidential Debates

Brian Steinberg

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump aren’t the only candidates in the midst of an intense campaign.

On Monday night, as those two political operatives offer points and counter-points in the first of a series of debates between the two presidential hopefuls, web-domain service GoDaddy.com will launch an election-themed salvo of its own. In spots set to run during pre-debate coverage on CNN and post-event analysis on CBS and Fox News Channel, a person with the face of the company’s “GoDaddy Guy” will make the case to an assemblage of patriotic Americans that they are free to use the company’s services to turn their own ideas into reality. “There is no other candidate that’s more affordable,” the character says in the spot.

“This election cycle is expected to draw unprecedented audiences for the debates,” said Barb Rechterman, GoDaddy’s chief marketing officer, in an interview. “It’s a welcome opportunity.” A follow-up TV commercial from GoDaddy is slated to air in proximity to the second presidential debate in October, the company said.

The price to take part isn’t cheap – though it is considerably less dear than a Super Bowl berth (something GoDaddy once knew a lot more about). CBS is seeking between $200,000 and $225,000 for a 30-second ad during its post-debate coverage, according to Rechterman and other people familiar with the matter. The cable-news networks, meanwhile, are prodding advertisers who want to run commercials adjacent to the debate to buy larger packages of ad inventory in exchange for the access. The debates themselves run commercial free, but the networks are free to devise opportunities for content that airs prior to and after the events.

The first debate, set to air Monday, September 26, will air between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. across CBS, NBC and MSNBC, ABC, Fox and Fox News Channel, CSPAN and CNN.

Expectations among TV networks and advertisers are high for the debates. In 2012, about 67 million people tuned in to watch President Barack Obama square off against Republican contender Mitt Romney in the first debate of that cycle. Given the outsize attention being paid to this year’s race, media buyers are estimating total viewership may be even higher.  Fox News Channel delivered 24 million viewers last August for the very first primary debate, setting an all-time record for the highest-rated non-sports program on basic cable.

NBC is sold out of ad inventory for its debate coverage and its sister outlet, MSNBC, is nearly sold out, according to a person familiar with the situation.  CBS also has full support from advertisers for the event, a person familiar with the network said, and is seeing stronger demand from automobile marketers, movie studios, pharmaceutical manufacturers and technology advertisers than it did in 2012.

GoDaddy has a lot of experience talking to some of TV’s biggest crowds, yet recently turned away from one of the medium’s largest. Super Bowl 50 was the first gridiron classic not to contain a commercial from the Scottsdale, Arizona company since 2005. Now, said Rechterman, the web-services company sees the coming debate as a chance to get its name out in much the same way the football game does.

The company needs to do a mix of different kinds of advertising, she said, using some of the broad-reach variety and some that aims for specific groups of consumers. “We are going to use this election season to get a lot of reach, and then understand that we are going to come in and do some very good targeted advertising that is going to help us pull through,” she said.  GoDaddy’s election-themed spots will continue to air through November.

Although it seems as if everyone is preparing to watch the debates, advertising during them may not be for everyone. Advertisers who are seen favoring a certain candidate over the other or embracing a particular set of political talking points may lose part of the crowd. GoDaddy, she said, is relying on humor to get its message across. The only thing political about its ad, she said, is its setting.

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