All Politics Is Local, but All Political Ad Spending Is Not
Is campaign advertising leveraging local and mobile? Susan Kuchinskas reports.
When the Bernie Sanders campaign hired Revolution Messaging to create a digital and branding strategy, the digital agency had only 72 hours to put together a website, email and fundraising program, as well as a digital advertising strategy.
According to Revolution’s website (the firm's executives did not respond to an interview request), its mobile-first advertising included Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter. Revolution created 557 unique videos that by June had been viewed 42 million times on Facebook alone. All the while, it tested and optimized its messaging in every channel.
The Sanders campaign spent more on digital advertising than was spent in all 2008 federal races combined. In short, the campaign looked a lot more like a consumer-goods advertising campaign than a political one.
In campaigns, mobile matters
According to the GSMA, U.S. audiences now spend more than three hours a day on their mobile devices, with 87 percent of that time in-app.
Borrell Associates has forecast local political ad spending at $5.13 million. Mobile will account for $75.86 million.
Political campaigns seem to have gotten the memo – or should we say the text? Fifty-three percent increased their digital ad spends from 2012 to the present, according to AOL, with 51 percent of digital dollars spent allocated to programmatic placements in digital and mobile.
“Everyone has kicked it up a notch. This year has turned a new leaf with regard to political staying up to speed with technology,” says Ariel Dietz, AOL’s director of mobile politics advertising for the mid-Atlantic region.
The role of local
According to Borrell, 31.2 percent of local mobile spending will be on campaigns for local and county offices. State assembly campaigns will account for 32.1, with 21.8 percent spent on local ballot issues.
In a survey of 1,500 U.S. mobile users, Opera Mediaworks found that three out of four saw value in campaign ads that were localized in terms of the issues; such ads also received more engagement and had higher clickthrough rates. This was mostly at the state level, according to Falguni Bhuta, vice president of communications and engagement for Opera Mediaworks.
In theory, even national or state campaigns could use the same kind of advanced data targeting employed by commercial advertising to identify undecided voters most likely to be swayed. You know, the famous “people-centric” advertising touted by Facebook, also known as one-to-one marketing or hyper-personalization. At least, they could use geotargeting strategies to blanket neighborhoods or areas that contained the most voters who were on the fence.
In practice, the lion’s share of local mobile ads will be spent on campaigns at the state level or lower.
Bhuta says that the sophistication of corporate marketers is much higher than that of political marketers. That could come down to brand marketers simply having more experience. “They do it very frequently, as a larger scale,” she says.
For example on Opera’s platform, corporate marketers regularly target down to the zip code level. They also target consumers based on a combination of location and behavior or purchase intent. It’s no sweat to find “auto purchase intenders in Menlo Park.”
But political campaigns seem to be operating in a parallel universe to the consumer advertising industry.
Bhuta says that on the Opera platform, political advertisers are not segmenting or targeting below the state level simply because their focus is on entire states.
But maybe they should be.
“The reason political advertisers don’t do advanced behavioral demographic targeting is because they’re ignorant of it,” says Kip Cassino, Borrell’s executive vice president. “Many have not been business owners; they have been in public service most of their adult lives. They just don’t know about it.”
Especially on the local level, Cassino says, pols “think that getting radio and TV time is a big step up from lawn signs.” In effect, they tend to apply the lawn sign approach to digital: put up some display ads and hope the right people see them.”
Political campaigns do geotarget, according to Dietz. “The most common way political advertisers are using location is by district,” she says. For example, they can geofence a particular area, a ploy that’s useful for reaching college students while they’re on campus. Dietz notes that creating a polygon geofence is necessary when targeting congressional districts, which tend to have highly irregular shapes.
The problem with targeting specific consumers within a district, she adds, is scale. “It would be too limiting to an advertiser to pinpoint a block.” Think about all the factors that would be necessary for that kind of targeting, she adds: “The person would have to be within that footprint when the campaign was launched; she’d have to be transmitting location data from her device; and she’d have to be accessing the mobile website or app that the advertiser was using to deliver the message.”
If your campaign goal was 50,000 unique impressions, she explains, only a small percentage of people in that area would be reachable at any time.
In January 2016, Innovid, provider of a video marketing platform, found that 28.3 percent of all video ad impressions were delivered to mobile devices. It also found that mobile video delivered the highest engagement.
An analysis of all video campaigns delivered during the month of August showed that:
· 34 percent of all political/advocacy video campaigns were delivered to mobile devices.
· 65 percent of all political/ advocacy video campaigns were delivered to desktop.
· 1 percent of all political/ advocacy video campaigns were delivered to smart TVs or other connected devices.
Video reigns as one of the top content types across devices, and, especially for younger consumers, on mobile. An August survey by mobile marketing platform Opera Mediaworks found that two out of three people watch mobile video at least once a day.
Television is still important for understanding candidates and their positions, Opera found, but 45 percent thought it was at least somewhat important to keep up with political news via more than one device.
A best practice, as seen in the Sanders campaign, is creating short, purpose-made videos, according to Dietz. Fifteen seconds or less is ideal.
She notes that many campaigns try to repurpose their 30-second broadcast spots by simply cutting them to create video ads. Instead, she advises them to use the same concept but create something more specific to the mobile medium that also takes into account the characteristics of the devices, including the smaller screen and the fact that many consumers will hold the mobile in the vertical position even to watch a video ad.
Finding the electorate
While consumers across the political spectrum favor the mobile channel fairly equally, AOL found differences in their content consumption – and thus the best ways to reach them with ads. For example, Democrats consume more entertainment and slightly more international news (60 and 45 percent) than do Republicans (49 and 40 percent). Democrats also seem to be more swayed by advertising, with 29 percent reporting that ads made them like a candidate better, compared with 19 percent of Republicans.
Democrats are more than twice as likely to donate online and to share via mobile devices.
There are also differences in the type of news preferred by Millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers, as well as differences between men and women.
On the Opera platform, political advertisers are mostly targeting millennials with mobile video, according to Bhuta. In the next few weeks leading up to the elections, she says, “Looking at more audience segmentation and targeting will be super-critical, so that you are reaching out to your audience in the right way – and so your messaging is relevant to issues they care about.”