Why brands should be wary of the approaching avalanche of political ad spend

PHD Australia national head of investment Joanna Barnes is urging brands and advertisers to pick their moments and channels wisely ahead of the upcoming federal election, as an avalanche of political advertising takes precious inventory away from brands still in recovery mode and in need of it most. To help combat the tense conditions, Barnes shares her tips for making an impact in an incredibly tight market.

Australia is approaching its 31st Federal Election with May 21, the last day the election can be held (currently no date has been set yet).

This brings significant levels of ad spend into the market and raises several key considerations for brands, advertisers and buyers.

In the past couple of years, Government ad spend increased 49% (as a result of COVID messaging, vaccinations and broader health communications) vs total market up 18%.

Political parties/unions and associations were still spending steadily over this period but in an election year spend typically grows by circa. 90%, adding an additional $80M+ into the industry.

This will now be my 7th Federal Election, and over that time I have either been a buyer working on behalf of government and securing ad inventory, or evaluating the media market for clients to establish the most effective investment strategy for their brands.

While the significant focus on social media, micro-targeting and the ongoing digital platforms inquiry will still be serious points of discussion, there are certainly some guidelines that still ring true when advertising in or around an election. But what does this mean for brands and buyers in 2022?

  • If you don’t have a time sensitive message avoid it
  • Look at opportunities to reach your consumer in ways you wouldn’t typically
  • Deploy disruptive creative
  • Have a clear approach as to what environments you want to play in and your view on potential association with a political message
  • Be prepared to incur cost premiums to be in the channels and environments that garner the greatest reach and impact
  • Consider the domination across digital / social platforms and ‘opportunistic’ journalism/fake news environments
  • Be mindful that post-election is also a busy time for advertisers as campaigns re-commence

Support brands in recovery mode

There is also a clear lack of transparency and accountability regarding political investment.

We need the landscape to be more equitable to start with by regulating political advertising spend, so that brands and advertisers aren’t disadvantaged. It has been a challenging couple of years and what we need to see is travel and tourism, the arts and hospitality being prioritised with messages in market, not bombarding consumers with political messages.

I’m not saying we should have no political advertising campaigns but some guardrails around expenditure is needed so that it doesn’t dominate. Brands that have time sensitive messages are disadvantaged the most due to a diminished presence and higher media costs over this period.

There is also no point holding out for the ‘blackout’ period, as this too is flawed.

The ‘Blackout’ period refers to a period where no election advertising can be broadcast from the end of the Wednesday before polling day until the close of the poll on polling day.

This rule applies to general elections and by-elections for the state, territory and federal Parliaments. It does not apply to local government elections. The blackout period only applies to broadcasters.

Digital and print media can still publish election ads during the blackout period. This is outdated and relates back to the broadcasting services act 1992 and should include digital, print and social media.

Broadcasters are now seeing this as opportunity to run political messaging via their streaming services which under the broadcasting services act is permitted.

What to expect from the two most in demand channels

Broadcast Free to Air Television:

A minimum of 60% of all election spending is expected to be across Television. Media organisations will be highly motivated to secure large volumes of investment that only come once every three years.

While an additional 1 x minute of airtime per hour is made available for political parties, once the election is announced, this will provide only a small portion of the required political airtime to broadcast their messages to market.

Expect heavy political advertising in the 5pm-8:30pm timeslot, with multiple commercials in premium high engagement properties.

News and breakfast environments will also focus on key election issues and the campaign trail. Brands and advertisers should be mindful of any indirect association they may have with ad placements.


Broadcast Video on Demand, homepage takeovers and sponsorships are expected to be heavily present throughout this period.

Social platforms will be a battleground for user attention as will ‘opportunistic’ journalism. Complex algorithms which are not in the public view could deliver false information to various consumers and should be a watch out for advertisers.

In the final week, all digital platforms will see investment ramped up as broadcast channels hit advertising blackout periods on the Wednesday pre-election (which doesn’t apply to digital, social or print channels).

A regulatory framework is needed to fully address transparency and accountability of political advertising spend, to also consider evolving technology and targeting methods as well as recognise the impact and importance of engaging with the Australian public in a meaningful and honest way.

For now, though, buyer beware.

Jo Barnes

Jo Barnes, PHD Australia’s national head of investment 


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