Trump Ads Will Take Over YouTube’s Homepage on Election Day

Mark Bergen and Joshua Brustein

(Bloomberg) -- In the immediate run up to the U.S. presidential election and on Election Day, the homepage of YouTube is set to advertise just one candidate: Donald Trump.

The president’s re-election campaign purchased the coveted advertising space atop the country’s most-visited video website for early November, said two people with knowledge of the transaction. The deal ensures Trump will be featured prominently in the key days when voters across the country prepare to head to the polls Nov. 3.

While the bulk of digital ad spending typically focuses on targeting specific messages to certain audiences, the top spot on YouTube is more akin to a Super Bowl TV ad. About three-quarters of U.S. adults say they use YouTube, exceeding the reach of even Facebook, according to the Pew Research Center.

Ads on the YouTube masthead—as the video on the top of the homepage is known—generally run for an entire day. The exact duration of Trump’s ad buy and financial details were unclear, but estimates for the space range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than $1 million a day.

YouTube, owned by Alphabet Inc.’s Google, lets advertisers target users based on a variety of factors, though it recently limited those options for political content. The Trump campaign bought the digital real estate nationwide, one of the people familiar with the deal said, both of whom asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

YouTube declined to comment on the deal but said it’s common for political advertisers to purchase masthead ads. After buying an ad, candidates can choose to surrender the space or restrict it to certain regions, a spokeswoman for the company said. “In the past, campaigns, PACs, and other political groups have run various types of ads leading up to Election Day,” she wrote in an email. “All advertisers follow the same process and are welcome to purchase the masthead space as long as their ads comply with our policies.” A spokesman for the Trump campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The move is likely to reinforce a feeling among many political analysts that Trump’s embrace of digital advertising gives him a distinct advantage over his Democratic rivals. The Trump campaign could spend as much as $500 million on digital ads and strategies, Brad Parscale, the president’s campaign manager, has said.

In 2012, President Barack Obama’s campaign bought the YouTube masthead for Election Day before Mitt Romney had even secured the Republican nomination, according to Teddy Goff, Obama’s former digital director. “This gets to a structural problem inherent in having a contested primary against an incumbent,” said Goff, now co-founder of Precision Strategies, a consulting and marketing firm. 

Trump and Hillary Clinton each ran masthead ads at various times in 2016. Trump spent more money online that year than Clinton and continues to outspend most Democratic rivals now. A major exception is Michael Bloomberg, whose campaign has spent $36.9 million on Google ads, according to statistics released by Google. That’s double what Trump has spent with the company. Both Trump and Bloomberg ran YouTube masthead ads last year. (Bloomberg is the founder and owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)Susan Wojcicki, the chief executive officer of YouTube, said in an interview with “60 Minutes” aired in December that some of Trump’s ads were rejected for violating company policies. The news program reported that more than 300 video ads submitted by the Trump campaign were taken down by Google and YouTube.

Many digital ads are bought and sold through automated systems, but that wasn’t an option for Trump’s Election Day purchase. To reserve space this far in advance, advertisers must work directly with Google sales representatives.

Online political advertising in the current election cycle will total $1.34 billion, more than double the levels of the last presidential election, according to EMarketer. The research firm estimates that digital spending will account for 19% of all political advertising. Facebook Inc. is the favorite platform of political campaigns, and its lenient policies have been a subject of controversy. The social network allows politicians to make false claims in their ads, whereas Google does not. Facebook offers far more granularity for campaigns to target people who fit a specific profile.

After Google limited campaigns’ abilities to use demographic targeting last November, some at the company have debated going further. Google has bristled at repeated accusations of political bias, particularly from Trump and other Republicans. One potential policy discussed inside Google was to disallow masthead ads on Election Day in favor of a nonpartisan banner reminding Americans to vote, said a person with knowledge of the deliberations. Ultimately, Google decided to keep its standard practice in place.

(Updates with YouTube CEO’s comments in the 10th paragraph.)

To contact the authors of this story: Mark Bergen in San Francisco at mbergen10@bloomberg.netJoshua Brustein in New York at jbrustein@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Milian at mmilian@bloomberg.net, Andrew Pollack

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