Why we think broadcast TV will continue to dominate for the next few cycles
We’re agnostic. Not in the religious sense, but in advertising. We don’t care what medium gets the eyeballs of voters as long as it gets them. Hell, it could be a plane carrying banners or trailing smoke signals, or even an electronic blimp. If those could get votes, we’d be for them.
So as we hear various versions of the following comments: “This is the year of online, digital and mobile” or “TV is losing viewers in droves” or “TV spending is dropping faster than (insert bad political metaphor of your choice),” we remain skeptical. Why? The reality is that, so far, those predictions have not come true, and we believe they are not going to any time in the near future.
There are two things to consider: First, broadcast TV is still the most effective way to reach the largest number of voters and move poll numbers; Second, TV is fighting back and is becoming highly targetable. We won’t see TV spending be surpassed by online spending. Rather they will become completely integrated and we will all become agnostic—screen agnostic.
The synergy between TV and online is likely obvious to you—just think about your own video viewing habits. It doesn’t take a data scientist to tell us how we behave and interact with media is a cross and multi-screen experience.
Campaign marketers and advertisers want to increase the impact of messages, but they also have to ensure the message is in fact being seen, regardless of device. The omnipresence of our messaging is critical. We don’t necessarily care where they are seeing the ad, so long as we make sure they are seeing the ad. We are literally in the hunt for eyeballs.
Targeting capabilities that have been expertly used by online campaign and advocacy efforts are rapidly becoming available on TV. A perfect example of this was just brought to our attention by a friend who saw an ad on TV for a candidate from another state while she was physically in D.C. She was stunned. How was it possible, that sitting in her house in Georgetown, she was seeing an ad for a political candidate over 1,000 miles away?
The answer: The campaign had the TV buy targeted to primary voters (this particular voter had voted in every election, including all primaries). DirecTV was the vendor, and it had matched subscriptions to voter data. The ad was served up to her sitting in her living room in Georgetown given that she was still an active voter in the state where the candidate was on the ballot.
Targeting capabilities like this are changing the way we buy media, and with TV becoming more and more targetable, the TV ad spend will not shift to online, it will include the digital buy. This solves a major problem we faced last cycle, where digital was almost always in a silo and was not integrated with the other media buys. In all major campaigns, traditional media consultants have a full seat at the table. Today, we insist that digital is part of our strategy from the get-go. Our goal is to be screen agnostic and focus on reaching voters wherever they are with consistent and compelling messages.
This may be worrisome to digital media consultants who have built an entire agency model around digital alone. We don’t have to tell you that there have always been tensions between direct mail vendors, media consultants, and the ground game, all fighting for limited dollars. We believe that a healthy tension will make campaigns better, not just at communicating their messages, but at delivering them as well.
The reality is that campaigns are a meritocracy. What works and what wins races will ultimately prevail. With TV technology constantly improving, particularly with the advent of targeting data, TV will continue to be a critical component of reaching voters and impacting races. In many homes, the TV is a giant computer and with various vendors like Comcast and DirecTV getting in that game, we are going to have a new level of accuracy in determining viewing habits and ultimately ratings. It will be interesting to see how this affects the rate of the media buy.
Our prediction (and perhaps we are going out on a limb here), is that TV, especially broadcast, will continue to dominate over the next few cycles. We might have to spend more to reach a diminishing targeted audience, but it will still be the fastest and most measurable way to get a campaign’s message out.
Online and mobile media must identify unified metrics to measure impact that is, or near, the equivalent to a GRP. We need something we can all use to measure effectiveness online. For all the metrics we can get from digital, and there are several very valuable ones, the one thing we don’t know is how much money we have to spend in order to move numbers. What is the digital equivalent of 1,000 GRPs? Once we know that, we can start to make better decisions on reaching non-broadcast watching voters and knowing what impact dollars spent will have on moving key numbers, like name ID, favorable and unfavorable ratings, and the ballot.
Campaigns often ask us what percentage of the budget should be allocated to online. We are helping them solve this quandary by having TV and online completely integrated. There is no magic percentage for your media budget and there are so many factors to consider: target audience, available impressions, cost of TV media market, and online population just to name a few.
We start by making a smart, thoughtful buy that maximizes budget and impact and incorporating the digital component into the TV buy. That way we are able to be efficiently and effectively strategize with a focus on reaching our target audiences. There are times when TV gets the whole budget, and there are times when digital gets the whole budget; however, 99 percent of the time, it’s an integrated strategy.
We are in a constant state of learning. Every cycle we see new technologies, some that will change the way we run campaigns, and some that, frankly, won’t. We will make mistakes along the way, but technology alone doesn’t win races. It is only the conduit to get your content to the marketplace.
As TV has stepped up its game in terms of better programing to keep viewership, political advertising will have to be better and more creative than ever before in order reach voters and keep their attention. And that might be an even bigger challenge.
Russ Schriefer is a partner at the media firm Strategic Partners & Media. Shannon Chatlos is a managing partner at SalientMG.