In 2014, target your budget where the clicks are

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Why online banner ads may be holding your campaign back


It has taken the political industry years to concede that digital advertising is a must have for all campaign budgets, but campaign professionals are finally starting to catch up.

We started seeing the inclusion of more digital dollars tentatively in 2004, with a much larger trickle into the marketplace during the 2008 primaries and presidential election, all moving toward the innovative tactics employed by the Obama campaign that year.

As digital professionals, we’re thankful it’s no longer a question of “if,” but a question of “how much.” But even with the progress we’ve seen, the industry remains largely stagnant, ineffectively competing for the same eyeballs that large commercial clients can reach so easily.

Each year, the industry’s willingness to direct more money into digital outreach grows, combined with the hesitancy of the market to evolve at an even faster rate. It leaves us continually pushing tactics that feel safe just for the sake of movement.

The truth is that it’s easier to sell a lower-cost and more battle-tested digital tactic, like banner advertising, than it is to convince a campaign to spend resources on a more dynamic online video effort—the latter costs more to produce and run than does its pixelated counterpart.

Here’s what we know: it’s no longer enough to just include digital advertising at fractions of a budget and backfill the approach from there. It’s widely accepted that we now must include the right digital tactics to complement an overall audience strategy. And yet, too many campaign professionals still don’t allocate digital budgets to reflect this new reality.

The audiences your campaign must reach are moving far faster than most political professionals realize or would like to admit. As these audiences grow more technologically savvy, we have to keep up with them. We must deliver messages how and when they want to see them, rather than as an afterthought once the TV dollars have been allocated.

Video advertising creates an opportunity for digital advertising to align more closely with traditional media campaigns, while leaving a more long-lasting impact with voters than banner ads are able to.

According to Solve Media, you are 475 times more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad. Combining this statistic with the volume of banner ads on any given site nowadays, it makes sense that marketers need to work harder to actually impact their audiences.

What’s the real problem with banners? Marketers have essentially outgrown them. Banners have been around for some 18 years and started small on very few sites across the web. It made them appear to be part of native content, and therefore engaging. No one had ever seen anything like them, so they clicked, and they learned.

As marketers caught up, the inventory on sites grew, and thus the volume of ads grew, too. Marketers evolved with this growth and focused on making the creative output more sophisticated, to not only make the brands move away from flashy neon creative, but to improve the overall experience for consumers.

This trend kept growing, and now banner ads can be as large as the whole computer screen— incorporating surveys, geo-location services, and even microsites. The purpose of a banner ad changed from being a simple digital execution to something that aimed to be everything to everyone, and for interested audiences, having these varied opportunities to engage is welcome.

However, the volume of people that make up these interested audiences dwindles every year. This is where video advertising, specifically in-stream (as opposed to in-banner) comes into play for digital campaigns.

Banner ads have the challenge of being omnipresent without necessarily being noticeable or relevant. In-stream video ads only start playing once a user initiates video content they already intend to watch. It’s the same concept as watching the previews before seeing a movie in the theater—you are already there to watch the movie, so you might as well sit down to a few minutes of targeted entertainment before you begin. You might even learn about a new favorite film that you hadn’t heard of.

The biggest difference between banner ads and in-stream video lies with intent and choice. Even without multiple buttons to click on or three pieces of content to store in one ad unit, the inherent nature of how in-stream video exists within the digital landscape makes it instantly engaging and more personal.

Everyone knows advertising is something they will be exposed to every single day of their lives; all they want is to avoid feeling bombarded by unnecessary information and for the experience to be somewhat relevant to their interests if it’s going to take up their time. Combined with thoughtful audience targeting, in-stream video does just that for the audiences it reaches.

When all of this is stacked up against standard digital performance measurement, it’s not surprising that in-stream video ads always outperform banner ads. According to DoubleClick research, the standard clickthrough rate of a banner ad in the U.S. is 0.10 percent, whereas the standard clickthrough rate of an in-stream video ad is generally five times that, according to research from Pointroll. This is just clickthrough rate. Exposure time alone will demonstrate video’s high engagement compared to banners, and with exposure that much higher, recall will inevitably increase.

Both types of ads are sold digitally based on impressions, and can be targeted in the exact same way. So, despite higher production costs, why are banners bought so frequently compared to in-stream video when the marginal cost increases are justified by higher engagement and performance?

Beyond that, in-stream video is doing what its competition has never been able to do, pairing with traditional media to make multi-channel buying more integrated for both the campaign planner and the audience being targeted with these reach and frequency plays.

In-stream video can now be sold based on points and even with guaranteed delivery against TV demos, like adults 25-54 or women 18-34. In-stream video is able to bridge every visual platform and create cohesion.

Consultants and buyers are now able to reach the same audience with the same ad whether they’re watching broadcast, cable or digital content on their computers, mobile phones, tablets or Internet-connected TVs.

For political campaigns, these insights mean that a video produced by a campaign shouldn’t just be examined in terms of how many points a media consultant needs to buy on television. Rather, the points should be bought, and then corresponding digital buys should be placed to extend TV’s reach and frequency. If there’s any money left over from there, banners are a great next step.

But for an industry that’s always relied so heavily on TV advertising, given that the ability for voters to see and hear the politician they intend to vote for is so critical to personal engagement, in-stream video advertising is a natural extension of that.

Ironically, banner ads have now become the backward piece, even though they were what kick started the whole industry.

Jenny is the founder and CEO of InStrat Media, a media strategy and planning firm in Washington, D.C.


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