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2016: The Year Election Ads Finally Come to the Internet

Welcome to the future, political advertisers. The Web has been waiting for you.

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Here’s another first for the 2016 election season: It’s the first time political campaigns are going to spend real money on digital ads.

That might seem odd to you, because you’re reading this on the Internet, where you do lots of other things. So you might assume that politicians and their campaigns have been spending money to reach you here for years.

Not so: Up until now, political advertisers have treated the Internet as a novelty. In 2008, digital accounted for a paltry $22 million of the $6.2 billion campaigns spent on advertising.

And two years ago, long after everyone else had started pushing significant dollars to Web ads, politicos hung back, spending significantly more on things like radio and billboards.

Things are different this year, says Nomura analyst Anthony DiClemente, who predicts that campaigns will spend $1 billion on digital advertising.

That’s about 10 percent of the $10.1 billion he thinks they’ll spend overall, with TV getting the bulk of that money, just like it has for a long time. But digital is finally starting to eat into traditional media’s share:

And most of the spending that is moving to digital is going to end up with two companies, Nomura says: Alphabet and Facebook, which will get around $400 million and $350 million in political ads, respectively.

That makes sense, given those two companies’ dominance in digital advertising in every other sector.

Still, it has to smart a bit over at Twitter, which has seen a burst of political activity, led by Twitter savant/wizard Donald Trump. But when you’re as good at Twitter as Trump is, you don’t need to pay.

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