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.
The Obama campaign was able to integrate its data with Facebook data to create custom ads served through its fans. This extended the campaign’s message by way of Facebook friends, enlisting more ardent supporters to opt-in to sponsor ad messages and push friends of friends down the chain of getting enthusiastic, getting involved and finally getting out to vote—replicating the equally effective door-to-door efforts virtually.
The best part about data integration for online communications is the ability to immediately gauge success and make changes on the fly to take advantage of results, trends and real-time data.
Testing the response to various messages for fundraising, activation and even persuasion will show which issues, messages and calls-to-action work best with each segment. Resources are then redeployed behind those messages with greater intel to optimize ads that drive higher traffic numbers, increase the number of donors to a campaign, increase dollars per donation or just serve the most persuasive ads.
2. Targeting & Personalization
In such a polarized climate, every election is decided on the margins, especially at the presidential level. Consider this: Mitt Romney lost New Hampshire, Ohio, Florida and Virginia by 429,000 votes collectively. Had the Romney campaign been able to persuade half of the voters mentioned above, he would have garnered 272 electoral votes and would be sitting in the Oval Office today.
2012 saw the rise of Hulu, online video, Pandora, and Internet connected gaming devices as vehicles for online political ads. Advertising-based subscription video services like Hulu offer terrific opportunities for precise geo-targeting and content-based targeting because of the demographic and behavioral information content providers keep on their subscribers. This data allows advertisers to utilize more relevant targeting with more customized messaging.
Both presidential campaigns also utilized heavy traditional media buys with local broadcast TV, targeted cable systems and networks to reach mass audiences. Since each media market is unique and voter goals vary by geographic area, presidential campaigns determine how much to spend in each area according to voter performance. Once budgets are decided, media buying firms must decide how to most efficiently reach the most important voter segments.
The Romney campaign focused on a one-size-fits-all ad strategy targeted only to their voter profile, generally airing one or two ads at any given time. The Obama campaign went pretty deep both in their network and program choices as well as message personalization with content targeted specifically at voters in various groups with buys that matched each audience profile. In some cases, the Obama campaign had 10 or more ads up on air in a given market.
Some might look at that and call it overkill (especially the voters who had to endure that many ads), but in Ohio, for example, it allowed the Obama campaign to air ads on choice targeted to females, ads regarding tire factory closings in Akron and Canton and youth GOTV messages targeted at new voters and the 18-34 crowd.
The Obama campaign also took advantage of newly available addressable targeting with Dish Network. Within the same ad slot there would be multiple ads targeted to different households depending on the specific demographics of the satellite consumer. A voter in Household A would receive a persuasion ad because they were considered undecided, while a voter in Household B would be served a GOTV ad because, even though they supported the president, they needed an extra push to get the polls. Those two voters could have lived in the house next door or across the street from one another. This is TV 2.0—addressable advertising on your living room HDTV, not just your laptop and mobile device.
3. Multi-Screen Technology
Technology companies are driving media consumption behaviors by allowing the consumer (and voters) new and exciting ways to watch their favorite content and share it with their own networks of friends. The amount of video that is consumed by an individual is only limited by the bandwidth available and the restrictions of a data plan. As new technologies develop, media buys must continue to research, test and monitor how voters utilize new devices to consume media both independently and in conjunction with traditional media.
The amount of cross-platform interaction with multiple screens (tablet, traditional TV, mobile, etc.) continues to rise. Studies show that as
many as 63 percent of live TV viewers are multi-tasking. That means our use of multi-screen advertising also needs to increase. Political campaigns are beginning to warm to the idea of placing hard-earned campaign dollars on nontraditional platforms to reach those notoriously hard to reach audiences of cord-cutters and those without cable plans. They are also beginning to take advantage of multi-tasking.
Local TV GRPs, Cable GRPs, Internet impressions, time shifted viewing and mobile impressions are all distinct measurements with a high degree of difficulty to combine. Of the major challenges facing the political media buying industry, this is one of the most important. While we are creating dashboards to monitor and compare ad spending and allocation in real time, we need a system that can create a uniform measurement across all media so we can value performance, efficiency and effectiveness across media.
This is especially true for emerging digital and IP-based technologies. If they are to fit into the mainstream market of media buying they need to integrate into the systems that currently exist or create a system that will work in parallel with current measurement systems.
And to be fair, this is a challenge facing the ad buying world industry-wide unless everyone considers the least common denominator of an ad impression a robust enough metric to be the solution. The current third party measurement systems will become less useful to political media buying agencies and campaigns as more upfront data is collected with custom research to plan and execute paid media campaigns.
This data will also serve as a tool to measure the effectiveness of media campaigns while they are in market, essentially in real time. It’s just a matter of time before all of this information becomes seamlessly integrated into a single system of front end research and back-end monitoring. Companies like Nielsen are trying to solve this problem through releasing new cross-platform measurement tools, which could be a boon to the company if widely adopted.
5. Population and Voter Trends
Our customers are voters. They are the 129 million people who participated in the 2012 election. And over the last 20 years, there has been a shift in who gets those customers. In 1992, Hispanics made up 2 percent of the electorate while the white vote stood at 87 percent. In 2012, Hispanics increased their share of the vote to 10 percent while the white vote decreased to 72 percent.
While campaigns in various regions of the country will need to pay greater attention to the statistics of their specific districts and states, it is clear that campaigns ignoring these demographic shifts will regret it.
In 2008, Team Obama spent $7 million on Hispanic outreach. In 2012, that number increased to $15 million and, in fact, preceded General Market advertising, which is unprecedented at the presidential level. Comparatively, the McCain camp spent just under $2 million on Hispanic outreach in 2008 and Team Romney spent about $5 million total in 2012.
Campaigns need to look at the demographic makeup of their electorate and determine which slice represents their swing voter. While the white vote at 70 plus percent still represents the largest piece of the electorate, your media budget may very well need to reflect the fact that there might be very few swing voters in that slice.
Media expenditures in a campaign historically follow a continuous upward slope. As the election nears media spend increases greatly—exponentially in many cases. There is a need to rethink that for many campaigns as the election calendar changes. For some states early voting begins in September and in-person early voting can start three weeks out from Election Day. This past cycle, roughly 30 percent of the electorate took advantage of early voting.
This isn’t the only reason to rethink pouring the bulk of a campaign’s resources into the final two weeks before Election Day, however. Attempting to escape the interminable clutter is another good reason. During the final six months of the 2012 campaign, just over half (51 percent) of campaign advertising expenditures on TV and Radio at the presidential, Senate and House level happened after October 1. When every advertisement in an ad break is a political ad, chances are your message is much less effective, not to mention more expensive.
Taking advantage of every day of early voting (just like we do on the last Monday before Election Day in November) is something that merits more consideration.
In the early 1970s, presidential campaigns purchased most of their advertising nationally across the three major TV networks with pollsters and media consultants watching broad indicators like personal favorability and ballot tests. In the 1980s, and into the early 1990s, media consultants abandoned such a strategy and localized presidential elections by advertising only in certain target swing states. Most advertising budgets were spent on the major local affiliates in key states.
With the dawn of the Internet and cable TV we see the same geographic strategies, but with more fracturing in the public audience. Media buying agencies are trying to understand not only what programs and networks voters prefer but how they prefer to watch and how they intend to interact with that programming.
Television viewing and consumption of TV programming is at an all-time high (34 hours per week on average), but how people watch, where and when are constantly evolving. Media buying trends that follow need to correlate persuasion and consumption with votes.