When you hear about a certain state being expensive to advertise in, what exactly does that mean? To a certain extent, the cost of advertising on a per-eyeball or per-ratings point basis varies a bit from market to market. TV time is proportionately more expensive where there are more upwardly-mobile customers, for instance, and seems to be slightly more expensive in the Sunbelt than in other regions of the country. But these differences aren’t that great. Mostly, North Carolina is a lot more expensive than North Dakota simply because there are a lot more people there.
There is, however, one peculiarity to advertising for political campaigns, which is that states differ in their electoral importance, and that some fraction of Americans — I would guess about 10 percent — have their TV originate from a different state. To reach Northern New Jersey, for instance, you’d have to run advertisements in New York, wasting money on viewers whose votes will make no difference in the electoral math. It’s these bleeds and overlaps in the nation’s 210 Designated Market Areas that account for most of the difference in the de facto cost of targeting voters in particular states.
With that in mind, let’s review the advertising situation in the 22 most important states as according to our tipping point ratings. I have assigned each state an ‘Efficiency Rating’ from 0 to 10 based on the forgivingness of its particular geography. You can also view maps of each state’s media markets by clicking on that state’s name.
1. Ohio. A great state to advertise in. Ohio’s markets generally bleed into other states rather than the other way around, and the bleeding isn’t much. Also, the number of markets is a plus: there are 12 different ones covering every corner of the state, making it easier to target swing voters. Efficiency Rating: 9.
2. Michigan. Another pretty clean state; about 98 percent of Michiganders get their TV from markets originating within the state. The biggest logistical annoyance is that the Detroit market covers both the very poor inner city, and the very wealthy collar suburbs; you’ll generally be more interested in reaching the former than the latter, but will have to pay to do both. But advertising time in Detroit is quite cheap, rendering this somewhat moot. Efficiency Rating: 8.
3. Pennsylvania. The problematic market is Philadelphia, which also covers about half of New Jersey’s geography and most of Delaware’s. There are also six counties on the periphery of the map that get their TV from a neighboring state. Efficiency Rating: 6.
4. Colorado. Extremely straightforward, although the Denver market reaches substantial portions of Wyoming and Nebraska. Efficiency Rating: 9.
5. Virginia. Total mess. To reach Northern Virginia, you absolutely have to buy up Washington DC (only ABC has a subregional station in Virginia proper). But then you’re also paying to reach eyeballs in Maryland and in DC itself, which you have no interest in whatsoever. Washington DC is the most problematic market in the country in this sense, since Maryland and Virginia will rarely be competitive in the same election. Also, the panhandle area in Western Virginia gets its TV from Tennessee, but TV is so cheap there that that isn’t really a problem. Efficiency Rating: 3.
6. Iowa. Some overlaps, but not bad. The main issue is the Council Bluffs region in the southwest corner of the state, which gets its TV from Omaha. However, since the electoral vote in Omaha’s congressional district is up for grabs this year, that is not really a problem at all. Efficiency Rating: 8.
7. Wisconsin. Another very good state — importantly, the Chicago market does not bleed into Wisconsin at all. You do lose a few counties to Minneapolis and Duluth, but they are not very populous. Efficiency Rating: 9.
8. Indiana. About 20-25 percent of the state gets its TV from Chicago. It’s hard to imagine that purchase being worth it, and I certainly do not recall seeing any Obama or Clinton ads here in Chicago in the run-up to the primaries (although I also do not watch a lot of local TV). Cincinnati and Louisville also present problems in the Southern portion of the state, although since you’ll be advertising in Cincinnati anyway, the latter isn’t such a issue. Efficiency Rating: 4.
9. New Mexico. Most of it is just one huge market covering Albuquerque and Santa Fe. A handful of counties are covered by Texas, but this is not a major problem. Efficiency Rating: 8.
10. Florida. Pretty favorable terrain, although TV time tends to be quite expensive in Florida. The only real challenge from a geographical standpoint is that Pensacola overlaps with Mobile, AL. Efficiency Rating: 8.
11. Oregon. Extremely straightforward, and smaller cities like Bend and Eugene have their own markets, making targeting easier. You do lose one county apiece to Boise, ID and Spokane, WA, but that’s easy enough to live with either way. Efficiency Rating: 9.
12. New Jersey. Why does it seem like politicians from New Jersey — like Jon Corzine and Frank Lautenberg — are always rich? Because it’s completely impossible to advertise in New Jersey cheaply. The top half of the state is covered by New York and the bottom half by Philadelphia. That’s it — there are no markets that are native to the state, and both New York and Philly are horrifically expensive. For this reason, I would not expect the McCain campaign to make any sort of cute play for New Jersey. Efficiency Rating: 0.
13. Missouri. All but two counties get their TV from inside Missouri, but the St. Louis market bleeds quite a bit into southern Illinois, and naturally Kansas City bleeds into Kansas. Efficiency Rating: 7.
14. New Hampshire. Looks worse than it is. Technically speaking, 84 percent of New Hampshire’s population is covered by the Boston market, and the rest by Maine or Vermont. But there is a bit of a market-within-a-market, as both ABC and NBC have New Hampshire-based affiliates, whose very existence might owe itself to New Hampshire’s importance in presidential politics. Efficiency Rating: 4.
15. Nevada. Almost perfect. Three eastern counties get their TV from Salt Lake City, but nobody lives out there. Efficiency Rating: 9.
16. Minnesota. Only minor problems; parts of the state get their TV from North Dakota, South Dakota or Wisconsin, whereas the Minneapolis market bleeds into Wisconsin. However, since both Wisconsin and North Dakota should also be in play this year, you don’t mind reaching those eyeballs. Efficiency Rating: 8.
17. North Carolina. The western quarter of the state shares its TV with South Carolina, Tennessee or Georgia, and much of the Inner Banks from Virginia. But these are manageable concerns. Efficiency Rating: 7.
18. North Dakota. Couldn’t be much simpler, as the state’s population is about evenly divided between the Bismarck and Fargo markets. Fargo overlaps a bit into Minnesota and Bismarck into Montana, which are the only things preventing a perfect score. Efficiency Rating: 9.
19. Montana. Not only is TV time very cheap out here, but you can be picky and choosy, with six distinct markets originating in Montana, and just a few tiny overlaps to worry about. Efficiency Rating: 9.
20. Delaware. It’s a little odd that Delaware is showing up on the swing state list, but it hasn’t been polled in forever, producing more uncertainty around our estimate. But the fact is that if the campaigns are advertising in Philadelphia, they are covering two of Delaware’s three counties anyway. The third Delaware county, Sussex, gets its TV from Maryland. Efficiency Rating: 2.
21.Washington. Very simple. Five counties are covered by Portland, Oregon, but if you’re advertising in Washington, you’re probably advertising in Oregon anyway. Efficiency Rating: 9.
22. Alaska. Finally, our first perfect score. Because of its geographic isolation, there is no overlap between markets in Alaska and those in any other state. Efficiency Rating: 10.
So to sum up, the big problem is in New Jersey, where the lack of native TV markets completely alter the political dynamics of the state. Other challenges are presented by Indiana, Virginia, and New Hampshire. Oh, and Delaware, if you ever felt the need to target it.