By Nick Corasaniti and Maggie Haberman – – – –
After months of waiting, Donald J. Trump has followed through on his promise to advertise, and advertise big, in early voting states in January.
Mr. Trump, the front-runner in many polls for the Republican presidential nomination, had promised to spend at least $2 million a week on advertising; he has already reserved $1,996,165 in ads through Jan. 12, according to Elizabeth Wilner, a senior vice president at Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks TV advertising.
Several media buyers, some with rival campaigns and some independent contractors, called the television airtime substantial. Mr. Trump is not at saturation levels in many of the markets, but his level of ad buys are competitive with the other candidates.
And he is acting on his own; while other candidates such as Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio are supported by “super PACs” advertising on their behalf, Mr. Trump has scorned help from outside groups after controversy surrounded a super PAC with ties to his campaign.
He reserved more than $1 million worth of air time in Iowa, with roughly $750,000 placed across seven broadcast markets and an additional $310,000 on 10 cable networks across the state.
In New Hampshire, Mr. Trump has reserved about $550,000 worth of air time on broadcast television, with the majority in the Boston market. Additionally, he reserved more than $300,000 on cable in New Hampshire, across more than 10 networks. And he is currently in the process of reserving more radio ads in the state as well.
Cable spending tends to be more targeted than broadcast spots and requires a level of sophistication. Dave Neal, the main strategist with Strategic Media Services, which placed Mr. Trump’s spending, has been described by colleagues as a veteran of political niche buying. Mr. Trump’s team appears to be buying week to week.
He has placed ads on Fox News, the obvious target for his main audience, but also on ESPN, the Food Network and the History Channel.
Until this point, Mr. Trump had been running one of the most nontraditional campaigns in modern history, relying almost exclusively on free news media and constantly surviving controversies that many political pundits proclaimed would put an end to his campaign. And the first ad that his campaign produced centers around his most controversial proposal: a temporary ban on foreign Muslims entering the country.
Either way, he faced skepticism about whether he would devote significant financial resources to advertising, and the $2 million in airtime buys could dispel those doubts for now. He said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he felt “almost guilty” about how little had spent so far. According to the most recently available filings, as of the end of September, Mr. Trump had lent his campaign roughly $2 million, but it took in $4 million in donations.
Political ads serve as repetitive reinforcement of a campaign’s message. And for all the focus on Mr. Trump’s free time on cable television, it isn’t the same as a controlled, 30-second spot delivered into people’s homes.