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Targeted Technology Helps Political Ads Take Aim at Voters

March 15th, 2016   ||    by Monta Monaco Hernon

Political ads are a different animal than corporate advertisements. There is much more of a sense of urgency and a do-or-die reality that makes success on the first try imperative. As Evan Tracey, SVP, National Media, Inc., said at a recent MediaPost event, a Coca-Cola ad could fall flat, but the company will live to fight another day. If a political ad misses its mark, however, the candidate could fizzle. It is no surprise that particularly in the political arena, targeting is better than not targeting. The question remains how much, and how quickly, will the technology make an impact and on what layer of the political spectrum.

Digital media spending for the 2016 election is projected to be $1 billion, according to Borrell Associates, indicating politicos recognize there can be a benefit from reaching based on specific demographics. Yet, the $1 billion is just 9.5 percent of the estimated $11.5 billion projected to be spent on political ads in 2016. Local broadcast TV will take a 51 percent share with $5.8 billion, and cable will follow at $1.1 billion. Hopefully, targeting in the digital arena will heighten interest in expanding the capabilities and usage in television.

Targeting on the Rise

Alex Lundry, CAO, Deep Root Analytics, noted during the MediaPost panel discussion, that usage of targeting has expanded in politics since 2012 when the Obama camp out in front with the experimentation. In 2014, it was used more aggressively with some Senate candidates and Super PACs taking it on. For 2016, the Borrell report suggests that of the $1.5 billion overall spent on House elections (including the primaries) $177 million will go to digital advertising. With fewer contests, the Senate bill for political ads is projected to be $582 million, with $76 million of that going to digital spending. In other words, whereas the price for data analytics tools was formerly a barrier to all but presidential candidates, the point has come where targeting techniques could be affordable for a wider variety of campaigns, Lundry said.

What will this digital spending buy? Campaign advisers and political scientists say Facebook could be one of the best outlets, according to The Guardian. The social networking giant has already proven to be a player in 2016, with Sen. Ted Cruz, for example, cross-referencing data with Facebook before the Iowa caucus and sending ads on issues like immigration, abortion, and local priorities, like the sale of fireworks, to the voters most likely to care about them.

While Facebook has been in the political game since 2008, its offerings have expanded. For example, the company will seek out members who tend to “like” and share political items. This so-called influencer tracking is based on the notion that, “people are more likely to trust information that their friends share.” Facebook also began serving video ads to mobile devices, reflecting the increase in time users are spending on their smartphones.

A Unified Strategy

During a recent investor call, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, said, “Using Facebook and Instagram ads you can target by congressional district, you can target by interest, you can target by demographics, or any combination of those… and we’re seeing politicians at all levels really take advantage of that targeting.”

Campaign managers becoming more attune to the benefits of targeting and the affordability for smaller races is good news for Programmatic TV as well as digital. While the two technologies are different, the goal of data-driven analytics and automation are the same. The metrics in television are available to help reach the right voters. During the same panel discussion, Lundry said that more movement in the polls can be seen in terms of ballot support in response to targeted ads versus traditional ones.

By using programmatic for both television and digital, the campaign can better unify advertising across platforms. Returning to the notion that make-goods are not available as a plan B in politics, Christina Beaumier, SVP, Xaxis Media, cautioned, “There is a difference between technically feasible and should we do it, and can we do it and have we done it before. We are at the bleeding edge, you just don’t want to be the one to bleed.”

Beaumier expanded her thought further by explaining that a campaign might want to reach a specific subset with a message, but must be careful to scale and reach a broader audience as well. “We find in politico there is a moment and after that moment it is over. There is no, ‘Oh, it didn’t scale, you didn’t reach that audience.”

For more information on how progammatic and targeting can help in political campaigns, contact Videa.

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