The next evolution in media buying

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Six major trends in political media buying


Danny Jester is a senior vice president at GMMB and served as media director for Obama for America in 2008 and 2012. Kyle Roberts is the president and CEO of Smart Media Group, the lead media buying agency for the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008.

As the landscape of media consumption continues to fragment and change, it is more challenging than ever to reach voters with paid political messaging.

Video on demand, streaming video and DVRs are all giving voters a new sense of time, allowing them to watch content when and where they want. Presidential campaigns and Super PACs are spending more money than ever on paid political communications ($3.2 billion in 2012), and they face even greater challenges when it comes to finding and reaching the small segments of voters needed to swing elections in today’s highly polarized political environment.

The 2012 election witnessed record levels of fundraising and campaign spending with more than $1 billion spent on local TV advertising at the presidential level by the candidate campaigns, associated Super PACs and other groups, including American Crossroads, Restore Our Future and Americans for Prosperity.

Team Romney and supporting Super PACs spent $600 million on local advertising, compared to $400 million for Team Obama and his supporting Super PAC, Priorities USA. On Election Day 2012, one voter pulled the lever for President Obama for every $6 spent on local advertising by Team Obama. Team Romney spent $10 for every vote notched for him.

Given all the spending, we not only learned some new political media lessons, we also learned more about what works and what doesn’t in this new media buying environment. So we put our heads together for this piece, which shares two perspectives on new techniques in 2012 presidential media buying and analyzes what the future has in store for our industry. What we learned depends in part on which side of the aisle you sit, but what follows are six major trends we should all be able to agree on.

1. Data Integration In 2012, campaigns, vendors and media outlets shared more information than ever before. Everyone has databases rich with data—on the campaign side there is data ripe with information about voters, fundraising, field operations, GOTV operations and polling information. On the media side, we know which websites a person visits. We can analyze their social media activity, and we have television viewing data (down to the second thanks to companies like Rentrak). Over this past cycle, campaigns on both sides worked to tackle the complicated task of pulling all of this information (with datasets all over the place) together in a way that allowed a campaign to digest it and then utilize it to make better, smarter decisions.

For television and cable viewing data, companies like Rentrak got a boost in the campaign world thanks to their ability to match voter files and other proprietary campaign data with their existing datasets culled from satellite and cable set-top boxes. Rather than targeting solely on Nielsen demographics and Scarborough qualitative information, matching voter data with viewing habits allows a media buyer to purchase programs for a specific group of voters versus the more generalized segment created by Nielsen and Scarborough.

Through voter data they can tell party, how likely a person is to vote, and with integration of campaign polling data, can figure out just how persuadable a voter is. From there, a campaign can group those audiences and have various messages targeted to different programs—pushing one set of (perhaps less motivated) voters to get out and vote, and then persuade another set as to why they should vote for your candidate at all.

Historically, Nielsen has allowed for a data match of a few hundred voters in a given market beyond their standard demographic ratings. But now with set-top box data proliferation there is the ability for an advertiser to match tens of thousands of potential voters, creating a more reliable dataset, which can be broken down into more granular segments. This represents a great leap forward for television as a targeted medium and will result in better ad placement for advertisers.

While Rentrak data currently brings with it a high price tag for many campaigns, marrying set-top box data with already available Nielsen and Scarborough data creates a richer picture of the habits of target audiences, and helps us determine how to reach them with greater precision.

The same granular data that is just beginning to be effectively used to tie television viewing habits to targeted list and voter files is also being utilized in more powerful ways online. Matching targeted voter segments with existing behavioral data from social networks, online ad networks and publishers is omnipresent in current digital media planning. This allows us to target the right persuasion messages to the right voters, but it can also be used in a wealth of other ways.


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