Donald Trump's presidential bid has radically changed the American political landscape. The Republican Party is being remade and attacks once thought political taboo are now commonplace. 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.
Political ad spend is expected to reach a record $11.7 billion in the 2016 election cycle. Overall advertising volume is tracking at 122% over 2012 levels, with an estimated $408 million having already been spent on TV ads in the presidential race alone. Digital ad spend is expected to reach $1 billion for the first time ever. Deep dives: Which TV, radio and social media companies will get the most political ad dollars
All this with a major party presidential nominee who is spending notably less on campaign advertising than traditional candidates so far and instead benefits from billions of dollars in free media online and on television. According to analytics firm mediaQuant, Trump has received nearly $3.5 billion in free earned media over the past 12 months.
How is this possible? Trump isn't taking away from the amount of ad dollars spent on election 2016, though he is impacting their destination.
"Given that he's been so good at getting earned media, other folks who aren't going to have the same benefit are going to need to be really savvy when it comes to paid," said Adam Berke, president and chief marketing officer at online advertising placement firm AdRoll, whose services are being employed by numerous campaigns.
One area to look for a Trump-fueled uptick in ad spend is in hotly-contested congressional races. Many believe that Trump at the top of the GOP ticket puts Republican control of both the House of Representatives and Senate up for grabs. Republicans are likely to spend more to hold onto their seats, while Democrats will up spend because they believe they have a real chance at winning. Deep dive: Senate races will dominate spending
The result, wrote Wells Fargo analysts in a recent note, is that we may see a huge swell of funds going to down-ballot races, especially Senate contests, which could comprise as much as 45% of all election dollars this year, compared to previous estimates of about 30%. The presidential race might actually take a back seat, spending-wise, and make up just 35% of ad spend vs. the typical 40%.
Analysts estimate that some Senate races could see up to $75-to-$100 million in television ad spend, thanks in large part to the fact that they're likely to be funded by super PACs with big budgets. They are also subject to higher rates for ad placement, meaning a boon for broadcasters with assets in markets with toss-up races like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. E.W. Scripps Co. (SSP - Get Report) , Disney (DIS - Get Report) , which owns ABC, and Tegna (TGNA - Get Report) , have the best exposure to the most hotly-contested Senate races, according to Wells Fargo. Deep dive: How Trump will affect elections in 2018 and beyond
"[Trump has] certainly given us a lot of fodder, not just at the presidential level but in races up and down the ballot, and that's something that right now we're all thinking about. How does his message and how do his statements play in all of our races from presidential down to congressional races?" said Mark Skidmore, partner and chief strategist at Bully Pulpit Interactive, a communications and advertising firm that works with Democratic entities as well as corporate and advocacy clients. BPI has worked with Barack Obama's presidential re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee, and is currently advising several major 2016 races.
Beyond congressional races, Trump's position at the top of the GOP ticket also changes the swing state map, ensuring ad dollars will be going to areas they haven't in elections past.
"This year, you're going to be faced with an atypical sort of swing voter," Alex Lundry, cofounder of Deep Root Analytics, who headed data and analytics efforts for both Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. "We're going to be much more looking at Democrats who are hesitant to embrace Hillary Clinton, and you're going to be looking at Republicans who are wondering whether or not they should support Donald Trump."
The Trump camp has reportedly identified about 15 states where it plans to install directors, including Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Maine. Although Democrats have won those states the last six presidential elections, Trump believes his appeal to working-class whites may swing them red. He will also make a push in Georgia, which has historically gone Republican but due to demographic shifts may soon lean blue. Deep dive: Battleground Florida
This, of course, will require spending, and while Trump has run a frugal campaign thus far, he is likely to open up the floodgates heading toward November.
The real estate magnate has said that while he largely self-funded his campaign during the primaries, he plans to fundraise for the general election. He has begun hosting joint fundraisers with the Republican National Committee and hired a former Goldman Sachs partner as finance chairman of his campaign.
"Even he has realized that some of those rules still apply to him," said Berke. "He's realizing now that maybe self-funding a general election is not tenable, and a big reason for that is that he's going to need to have a good advertising strategy as well as being able to get earned media through saying controversial things."
According to Wells Fargo, Gray Television (GTN - Get Report) Meredith Corporation (MDP - Get Report) , E.W. Scripps Co., CBS (CBS - Get Report) and Disney will benefit most from the Trump-fueled and funded expanded swing states map due to their exposure there.
And combining it with other factors, including increased spending on congressional and gubernatorial races also caused at least in part by Trump, Scripps, Gray Television and Tegna have the most potential upside as they have the best exposure to 2016's races.
Digital, of course, will get ad dollars as well, especially heading into the general election and including from Trump. He has already leveraged platforms like Facebook (FB - Get Report) and Twitter (TWTR - Get Report) organically, but making the biggest impact through them will likely entail paying. Deep dive: The first $1 billion digital election
Thus far, Trump has largely been preaching to the choir with his social media declarations, reaching largely those who already follow him and who are likely already on board with his message. If he wants to reach swing voters, he will likely need to spend on some paid ads. According to Federal Election Commission disclosures, he already has spent about $130,000 on Facebook advertising and $3,000 on Twitter.
"Donald Trump has been...increasingly spending money on digital. And I think that his operation as it moves forward into the general election, I would imagine and hope that they would continue to put digital in a front and center light," said Vincent Harris, CEO of Harris Media who has headed digital efforts for Rand Paul, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich.
One digital place he won't be spending is on BuzzFeed, which recently pulled out of a $1.3 million advertising deal with the Republican National Committee over objections to Trump. "We don't like to turn away revenue that funds all the important work we do across the company," BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti wrote in a staff email reported by Politico. "However, in some cases we must make business exceptions: we don't run cigarette ads because they are hazardous to our health, and we won't accept Trump ads for the same reason."
Still, it is likely television will reign supreme, even with Trump in the mix.
"As crazy as this election cycle is becoming, we're finding out that the underpinnings are remaining the same," said Daniel Kurnos, analyst at New York-based financial advisory services firm Benchmark Company. "In fact, we've seen several pieces of anecdotal evidence, along with commentary from ad agencies, that more dollars are returning to TV as candidates are still evaluating the efficacy of the internet."
He estimates this will be a record year for political spending, up in the mid-teens on a percentage basis over 2012 levels. Deep dive: How Trump will affect elections in 2018 and beyond