20200601 GOV Debate

Since the April Republican State Convention, the four Republicans running for governor have spent a combined $1.293 million on advertising their campaigns.

According to figures provided to UtahPolicy.com from Advertising Analytics, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, former Gov. Jon Huntsman, former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and former Utah GOP chairman Thomas Wright have spent that staggering amount on digital advertising as well as commercials on broadcast and cable TV and radio. Those figures do not account for advertising spending over the final two weeks of the campaign.

However, the four are taking very different approaches to how they allocate those advertising dollars as they try to win support from voters. 

Cox is betting heavily on digital advertising while Huntsman, Hughes and Wright are taking a more traditional approach, focusing on television

Since he finished first at the Utah GOP State Convention, Cox’s campaign has spent $293,117 on Facebook and YouTube advertising, which is more than five times what Huntsman’s campaign has spent on the same medium, which is the second-most among the candidates.

Cox’s digital campaign is extensive. As of Tuesday evening, Cox has 17 separate ads running on Facebook, but there are 394 versions of those ads targeted at different audiences in Utah. Each individual ad buy is for less than $100 dollars, and each has a potential reach of just a few thousand users. On YouTube, Cox is targeting users in Utah more broadly.

The other campaigns don’t come close to Cox’s spend on digital advertising. Huntsman has spent $44,113 since the convention. Hughe’s total is $33,897 while Wright’s digital ad spend is $13,156.

On the other hand, Huntsman has spent the most on traditional advertising on broadcast TV and cable. Huntsman’s TV ad buy between the two since the convention is $387,254. Hughes has spent the second most on television advertising at $250,203. Cox spent $145,079 on TV while Wright spent $105,037. 

Huntsman has spent the most on radio advertising at just over $44,000. Hughes’ radio budget comes in at around $24,000 while Cox is at $9,800. There was no radio spending reported for Wright. The advertising totals provided to UtahPolicy.com do not account for mailers or other types of campaign materials.

Cox’s gamble on digital advertising might pay off, but it’s an unproven strategy. One veteran campaign consultant who has been involved in several Utah political races says Cox’s big digital play is not surprising.

“If anyone in the race thinks they can win digitally, it’s Cox,” they said, noting that Cox has embraced a number of non-traditional tactics during the race. 

“I'm not saying it's not possible, but in my experience, I have never seen a competitive Republican governors race where on Election Day, you've spent a majority of your paid media on digital and you came out victorious,” they continued.

The most recent UtahPolicy.com poll in the contest found Cox leading with 34 percent, with Huntsman and Hughes close behind at 30 and 26 percent each. The margin of error in that survey effectively makes the race a toss-up heading into the final week of campaigning.