Trump and Biden Illustration

Presidential Election Video Ads Struggle to Win Attention

Key findings  

  • Biden ads are more effective at luring and sustaining audiences, however both candidates’ ads struggle to engage audiences and drive their message home.  

  • Negative and aggressive attack messaging, coupled with longer ad durations, is prompting viewers to tune out earlier than more upbeat positive messaging with shorter duration. 

  • Political advertisers should balance rigid talking points with richer storytelling in order to drive greater emotional impact which leads to brand equity of the candidate. 

Trump_Biden_Ads+TelevisionNationClick image to watch video

Attention Performance Among Recent Presidential Election Ads  

Presidential election campaign video ads struggle to win attention among U.S. viewers, despite record spending on advertising and paid media in key battleground states as well as nationally. 

According a Realeyes study of 11 recent Biden and Trump campaign ads across television and digital channels, Biden video ads achieved an average Realeyes Quality Score of 5 out of 10, making them mid-performers among all political ads in Realeyes’ database. Trump video ads achieved an average Quality Score of 3, designating them as low-performers.  Realeyes Quality Score reveals the attention earning power of a video ad and is predictive of in-market performance.  


Drivers of Trump & Biden’s Video Attention Performance 

Quality Score measures the ability of a video creative to: 1) Capture audience attention in the first seconds; 2) Retain audience until the end; and 3) Encode the brand message into the brain through emotional engagement.   


Biden and Trump ads differed the most in their ability to capture uninterrupted attention in the first seconds, and then retain their audiences throughout the ad. Biden’s Capture score was 5.8 seconds, meaning that was the average point in which audiences first became distracted while watching the ads. Conversely, Trump’s average first distraction occurred at 4.5 seconds.  

Biden’s ads held on to attentive viewers better than Trump. The Biden ads’ Retain score was 39%, which was the percent of original viewers still attentive at second 15 (or until the end of the ad if it was shorter than 15 seconds). The Trump ads’ Retain score was 16%. 

Each candidate’s ads scored similarly low for their ability to encode messaging in the minds of their viewers. The Encode score, an index between 1-100, factors in emotional peaks and valleys, and is predictive of viewers’ propensity to find an ad message favourable. Both candidates’ ads achieved an average Encode score of 22, placing them far below the category median of 50. 


Mandates for Political Advertisers 

Political advertisers should factor how their creatives supplement or deter investments in paid media to access audience attention in the first place.  In many circumstances, positive content can maximize precious seconds of media time in order to more fully deliver key messages. The more negative ads in this study had among the lowest Quality Scores, resulting in more wasted seconds of paid media. 

It is easier to hold attention for the duration of an ad if the ad is shorter. For Trump, coupling more positive messaging with shorter ad durations likely would have resulted in less paid media waste and more attentive audiences that sustained through the duration of the ad. In this study, all ads were approximately 30 seconds. 

When political messaging drives specific talking points intended for narrowly defined audiences, emotive storytelling that appeals to general audiences often takes a back seat. This was the case with this set of presidential campaign ads, where there was an absence of emotional peaks and valleys that make viewers like and remember ads as they do in most other consumer advertising categories.


Realeyes measures naturally occurring human response using front-facing  cameras as opt-in viewers  watch the ads  from their PCs, laptops, mobile phones and tablets. This study included an average of 166 participant viewers per ad, for a total of 1,828 views.  

The Quality Score used in this study is part of Realeyes’ flagship PreView product, a content intelligence tool for predicting and managing attention in advertising. PreView allows advertisers to reduce media waste by predicting and eliminating low-performing video creative and boosting strong attentive creative. PreView has achieved up to 30% performance gains and 9X return of investment based on an ROI model involving 51 actual consumer goods ads.




Joe Biden 2020 Video  Ads  
Ranked by  Realeyes Quality Score  , U.S. General Population Sample, Tested October 14, 2020  

Video Name Duration (Sec) Quality Score Performance Capture (Sec0nds to first distraction) Retain (Audience Retention by Second 15) Encode (Audience Potential 1-100)

All Biden Avg

5 Mid 5.8



Vote Early


5 Mid 6.8



Moving Again


5 Mid 6.1



Barber Shop Workers 6

5 Mid 5.2


Millions of new infrastructure jobs 6 5 Mid 5.4 48% 23
Money in your pockets, not big pharma's 6 4 Mid 5.3 47% 15


Donald Trump 2020 Video  Ads  
Ranked by  Realeyes Quality Score  , U.S. General Population Sample, Tested  October 14, 2020  

Video Name Duration (Sec) QualityScore Performance Capture (Sec0nds to first distraction) Retain (Audience Retention by Second 15) Encode (Audience Potential 1-100)

All Trump Avg


Low   5.8



Promises made, promises kept


5 Mid




The Great American Comeback is underway! 30

4 Mid 6.1



Anti-Joe Biden


3 Low 5.2


Greedy Drug Companies


3 Low

5.4 48% 23
Trump Brought Back Manufacturing 22

3 Low

5.3 47% 15
Biden Avoids Answering Questions 31 1 Low 5.3 47% 15



Quality  Score: Realeyes  composite  score indicating how strong a video asset is at capturing attention.  It is determined according to  the following  three key indicators. 

Capture (Time  to First Distraction):  The seconds that viewers are attentive from the start of the video, until first distraction. 

Retain (Audience Retention):  The percent of the audience likely to  stay attentive to the video  for up to 15 seconds of viewing.  

Encode (Attention Potential):  The strength of the video to generate high engagement, including attentiveness and emotional peaks relative to the  video’s  category benchmark. Higher  Attention Potential  indicates viewers are more likely to report being interested the video.