Donald Trump's presidential bid has radically changed the American political landscape, and his free-wheeling and often controversial campaign could change how politicians make their cases to voters forever. The presumptive GOP nominee eschews traditional modes of campaigning, including developing a ground operation, using data to target voters and spending much of anything on advertising. It's in that last way that Trump has really astounded political observers: He managed to win the GOP nomination with little difficulty, spending almost nothing on media while his opponents spent lavishly.
There is little doubt that Trump will impact the way political strategists approach ad spending this election cycle. Down-ballot races will be more hotly contested; more states are being put into play in the presidential contest, driving ad dollars to places once thought safe for both Republicans and Democrats; and spending on social media will skyrocket. Deep dive: The real "Facebook election"
The question now becomes whether his anomalous presidential bid changes what happens in 2018, 2020 and beyond. Is Trump's success utilizing such unusual tactics a sign of a shift in political advertising paradigm, or is it a one-off?
"It's a little hard to draw conclusions out of what Trump does because he is such an anomaly," said Adam Berke, president and chief marketing officer at online advertising placement firm AdRoll, which is being used by several campaigns.
His celebrity and name recognition have given him an enormous advantage this election cycle. Unlike other candidates, he is widely known across America and has been for years, and his media presence gives him a gigantic, not to mention free, mouthpiece. Moreover, the media has covered his every move -- tweet, rally, comment -- obsessively, a treatment most other candidates don't enjoy.
"Donald Trump is the biggest celebrity in modern media history to run for president of the United States," said Vincent Harris, CEO of Harris Media, who has headed digital campaigns for Rand Paul, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. "I don't think his model is able to be replicated by somebody who doesn't share his celebrity."
Essentially, Trump's "x-factor" is his alone, even when he's not doing anything particularly different.
"What Trump is capitalizing on are trends that have really been happening, quite honestly, without his involvement in the space over the last eight to 10 years," said Sarah Newhall, executive vice president of strategy and insights at Blue State Digital, a firm Democrats use for campaigns. "What you're seeing is increased adoption of less traditional channels as mouth pieces in his case, but advertising, advertising spend and digital integration are all elements that have really been picking up."
Still, Trump's 2016 success is likely to give strategists at least some pause moving ahead. Millions of dollars were spent on anti-Trump ads during the primaries to little avail. Jeb Bush reportedly had $100 million backing him and was unable to so much as slow Trump down. Meanwhile, Trump stuck to social media and distributing videos of him simply talking to a camera or putting out seemingly low-budget ads.
"They've shown that it's not about how much money you spend. Some of their creative that they're doing online looks like it's very low-budget production video, and people online, they don't care if things look like they were made in Hollywood or not, they just care if the message is worth sharing," said Harris.
The real test will be what happens in the general election. And if anti-Trump ads fail again, then strategists will likely take a hard look at the landscape.
"If we see the Clinton campaign come out with massive broadsides of negative advertising, and if the effect is as minimal as the advertising against Trump has been up until now, I think by the next run you're going to see a real major change in the way people plan their marketing for these campaigns," said Kip Cassino, executive vice president at advertising tracking firm Borrell Associates.
In other words, the Trump effect beyond 2016 remains to be seen.