Grace Briscoe is SVP of Candidates and Causes at Basis Technologies
Digital advertising spend soared even higher for the 2022 US elections. This seemed like an aberration because of the record-setting 2020 US elections that generated the highest voter turnout ever. One could reasonably assume that the 2022 Midterms would not generate the same level of marketing as the previous cycle that featured presidential candidates at the top of the ticket. Yet, there was cautious optimism for ad dollars flowing into the market.
In 2022, more than 1,000 campaigns for state, local and national races managed their digital ad buying through Basis Technologies’ workflow automation and business intelligence platform, Basis, encompassing more than $130 million in political ad spend across video, display, native, audio, and text ads.
Basis Technologies has been trusted by agencies and consultants in politics, public affairs, and advocacy for 15 years. We’ve worked with candidates and advocacy groups at all levels, from Presidential to local elections. This experience gives our team a diversified view on how digital media is being utilized in political marketing.
This is the third research report Basis Technologies has published on the US elections and digital ad spending. Our 2020 report confirmed the growing use of programmatic advertising and the emerging interest in CTV ads, seemingly giving a 2022 winning playbook for midterm campaigns. The marketers followed through, perhaps at the cost of other tried and true tactics.
Could 2024 see the same rate of growth in CTV ad spending? It will likely depend on how inventory availability in programmatic (guaranteed, private marketplace or open bidding) affects tactical decisions. And as ad targeting restrictions based on consumer privacy begin taking effect (on top of Google deprecating third-party cookies in Chrome in 2024), common tactics to identify voters could be constrained. Luckily, political advertisers have long been comfortable with uncertainty.
Video ads, whether linear TV or digital formats, have long been popular for political marketers. When we began tracking this data in 2018, video already comprised a majority of ad spend – and that was a time when CTV ad opportunities were nascent. Now that the CTV train is rolling, we can expect continued dominance of video ad spend — the question is how much more can political marketers spend in this format. Much of CTV growth came from video ad dollars previously being spent on desktop. The redistribution in device spend did not necessarily boost format spend for video. There is finite high-quality video inventory now, but publishers could expand video offerings just in time for 2024, when a presidential contest could mean a bigger boost in ad sales than in a midterm.
Other formats should be monitored, especially audio. Native, audio, and others combined had miniscule volume in 2018 (4%) and 2020 (3%). But 100% growth is intriguing, and we believe a significant part was driven by Spotify allowing political ads for the midterms (it did not allow this in 2020). As digital audio and broadcast radio ad inventory become available via programmatic channels, this category could be poised for growth in 2024.
Even though CTV had a significant impact in shifting the media spend by device in programmatic channels, its effect was even greater for direct buying methods. For many inventory suppliers, CTV ad opportunities were primarily available via direct channels. CTV ads was almost half of direct spending for 2022 political marketers. This could be contributing to the decline in social advertising share over the past elections. However, the major social media ad vendors have also implemented restrictive policies for political advertising, in addition to having younger audiences (who are low-propensity voters).
Although programmatic advertising is still the most popular buying tactic, its decline in share in 2022 was unexpected. Nevertheless, programmatic channels experienced strong growth on ads served to CTV channels in impressions and, more so, in spend (67% growth from 2020 to 2022). Private marketplaces are favorite tactics, and we anticipate that increased adoption of programmatic guaranteed as a buying methodology to secure reserved inventory is likely to reverse the curve toward direct IOs. The primary loser in this evolution is desktop ads. While share in mobile ad spend declined somewhat from 2020 to 2022 (it was still steady in impression count between the two cycles), desktop impression and spend share took major hits.
Direct buying was lifted by the demand for CTV inventory. Our report tracks the vendors that received the most ad spend via direct channels (agency or political campaigns transacting an IO with vendors directly). This report has tracked the top 15 vendors in this category of buying, and the past two cycles have displayed the rapid rise of CTV advertising.
Traditional media brands CNN, Fox News, New York Times and Politico, known for politics, were knocked out of the 2022 top 15. These shifts speak to the need for stronger ad options specific for CTV at scale that can lure advertisers from the ease and efficiency of programmatic.
Overall total share of the top 15 vendors declined, going from 38% (2018) to 36% (2020) to 29% (2022).
The top three vendors had 28% in 2018, but now sit at 16% share of direct spend share in 2022. Notably, OTT/CTV vendors went from 4% (2018) to 14% (2020) to 16% (2022). More spend may be going to the long tail, and the duopoly dominance appears to be weakening. The development to watch in 2024 is Twitter, which will allow political ads for the first time since 2019.
Samba TV continued to rise, likely because of advertiser interest in automatic content recognition targeting. New to the list, VideoAmp’s presence also speaks to the importance of CTV planning and measurement tools. Pandora’s consistency for the past three cycles shows it remains the top source for streaming audio. Operational execution and inventory exclusivity make a big different in securing direct ad buys. As 2024 rolls around, the strength of direct buying could be affected as programmatic channels continue to develop better tools in frequency capping and measurement.
Political ad spending throughout the Midterm election year followed the same pattern as previous election cycles. Half of budgets are spent in the last 30 days before election day for persuasion and early voting and 25% is spent on the last ten days to get out the vote. This is the pattern for cycle upon cycle. The delay in congressional mapping and redistricting had little effect in the overall trend. A few factors that could affect this in 2024 are the presidential primaries and additional runoffs. Even though the country seems a little bit more energized for presidential elections than for midterms, savvy political marketers know that urging turnout and influencing down-ballot votes is still a monumental task.
Our programmatic CPM index compares the average pricing per month to the average CPM for the whole election cycle for political marketers. The significant price difference between January and November was driven by ad formats purchased, rather than factors concerning demand and supply. Video made up the majority (74%) of programmatic spend. While video CPMs remained steady throughout the cycle (we saw a variation of less than $1.50), the increased volume of spending on video from August to November at the higher base CPMs commanded by video was the driver of the overall increase. Display totals did also show significant inflation in the days leading up to the election. Although not published in this report because of its marginal impact within overall spend, native ad formats experienced the largest change in CPMs, which averaged over 140% higher in November than in January.
When all buyers are saving budgets for the end, there’s little opportunity to capitalize on lower pricing in the summer months. This pattern should urge advertisers to lock in favorable pricing negotiated in advance through programmatic guaranteed, private marketplaces, or even simple direct buys with vendors.
Michiganders were the clear winner (or loser?) during the midterms, receiving the most programmatic ad impressions. People in other large, populous states such as California, Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio also saw the most ads in terms of impressions and spend. The numerous congressional and state senate seats, and their competitiveness, in these areas are contributing factors for driving ad serving. Beyond the top 11, a large majority of states received 2% or less in total ad impressions in 2022, including Illinois (1.76% impressions share). These numbers could change dramatically when the electoral college is a factor in 2024.
Almost 20% of political programmatic ads used geopolitical targeting, where advertisers select specific districts to target. The most popular among these tactics is Congressional District Targeting, likely as a factor of the larger districts. Frequent updating of geopolitical districts throughout the chaotic redistricting process was key to the effectiveness of this targeting.
When Google blocks third-party cookies on Chrome, it could trigger political marketers that were heavily reliant on cookie-based tactics to move more spend into other tactics. As these marketers grow more familiar with these tactics (State Legislative District Targeting just debuted in 2022), they may decide that 2024 is the right time to transform their campaigns to these forms of finding voters.
CTV advertising was the dominant story in nearly every aspect of the 2022 midterm elections. More than 750 million programmatic ad impressions were served in the final 10 days and 175 million CTV impressions in the final four weeks.
Political marketers are sharpening strategies and tactics heading into 2024. Premium guaranteed placements, procured through direct buys, are key despite the ongoing popularity of programmatic ads. As more guaranteed placements can be transacted through programmatic pipes, this could bring more efficiency and effectiveness to political marketers, especially for CTV. And as marketers approach signal loss, now is the time to evaluate the solutions that overcome that challenge such as ID alternatives, contextual targeting and geopolitical targeting.
Basis Technologies has been trusted by agencies and consultants in politics, public affairs, and advocacy for 15 years. Its Basis platform provides a comprehensive selection of unique buying methods across all channels and devices, utilizing all major creative types and formats. Basis Technologies offers flexible service models with expertise in ad buying tactics for programmatic, vendor-direct, search, and social. Since 2007, Basis Technologies has helped power digital media for over 2,500 political campaigns and independent expenditure committees, and over 2,500 issue advocacy advertisers. Basis Technologies is headquartered in Chicago with 44 offices covering North America, South America and Europe, including a Washington, DC, hub for its Candidates + Causes team.
Want to learn more about Candidates + Causes advertising with Basis? Connect with us today.
We enter 2023 coming off a record-breaking year for digital ad spending in political circles. At a time when many brands were pulling back on advertising because of fluctuating consumer spending habits, political advertisers—comparatively immune to those economic concerns—poured so much money into campaigns that they buttressed the otherwise slow-moving US ad market.
Total investment in political ads last year hit a projected $9.7 billion, representing a staggering 144% gain over 2018’s election cycle and $660 million more than 2020—all despite no Presidential race at the top of the ticket. Given that midterms traditionally have lower voter turnout, these vast sums indicate that advertisers are willing to spend more per vote than in the past, establishing a precedent that will likely ripple into 2024 and push the US to a stunning new norm: the $10+ billion election.
As we start building towards that through 2023, there are three key trendlines for advertisers to watch:
Programmatic advertising is the bread and butter of any political team—92% reported it was an important component of their 2022 campaigns. However, premium placements and sponsorships with key thought leadership publications and newsletters still play a crucial role. The emergence of new players (Punchbowl, Semafor, and Pluribus, among others) alongside the mainstay publications has created more fragmentation in this space than ever before.
Advertisers can’t buy real estate in every online news outlet, so carefully choosing the right placements and partners per available budget is imperative. Against a climate of decreasing trust in social media among policy influencers, securing a footprint adjacent to reputable journalistic content is vital to engaging audiences.
Here at Basis, we observed a whopping 1,500% increase in political spending on connected TV devices in the first half of 2022 compared with H1 2020, and this powerful shift into streaming is set to be the most impactful trendline through 2023 (and 2024). There was tremendous adoption of CTV up and down the ballot through the 2022 midterms, and that is starting to carry over to public affairs and corporate reputation advertising. As consumers continue to cut the cord and new streaming inventory becomes available at scale, CTV is an increasingly viable channel for reaching even niche influencer audiences—provided advertisers are tapping into the right targeting and buying options.
Advocacy and public affairs advertisers are inherently tasked with reaching very specific audiences via the precise targeting capabilities of digital. But as we get closer to a cookieless future, those capabilities are facing an evolution.
2023 is going to be the targeting proving ground, where winners and losers will likely emerge among the alternative ID solutions, and having the ability to tap into multiple options will be essential to continued success. Exploring other solutions outside audience-based strategies is also increasingly important—contextual targeting, for example, offers opportunities across desktop, mobile, and connected TV. As usual, the only constant in digital media is constant change, and it’s all about how you navigate it.
Want to learn about some of the macro trends affecting digital marketing more generally? Check out our 2023 Trends Report to stay ahead of the curve as you plan for the year ahead.
Unprecedented ad spending in this mid-term election will have broader impact across the advertising ecosystem, increasing demand and driving up rates in multiple areas. However, understanding the timing of when the bulk of election dollars will be spent, and where the key battleground geographies are located, will help provide guidance to non-political advertisers on how to plan for the inevitable rise in ad spend ahead.
Political ad spend has increased massively in each of the last several campaign cycles, and this trend shows no sign of abating in 2022. The 2020 election cycle was the first to exceed $9B in spending, a 244% increase over 2016, and the 2022 cycle is expected to reach these same heights and top $9B again—even without a presidential race at the top of the ticket.
Sure do! Check out our blog post on the challenges and opportunities around targeted political advertising in 2022. Or, if you’re interested in learning how you can best capitalize on all this information, reach out to our award-winning Candidates and Causes team here are Basis Technologies to see how you can make the most of your spend this season.
Wishing you successful campaigns this fall, whether political or not!
U.S. Elections Digital Advertising Trends: 2020 Dominated by Programmatic, CTV and Last-Minute Spending
2022 Political Video Advertising Projections
Political ad spending for 2022 midterms to reach $7.8 billion
Connected TV Households, US, 2022-2026
Basis internal rate data, 2016-2022
Grace Briscoe is SVP of Candidates and Causes at Basis Technologies
The 2020 U.S. elections were the most unique of our generation -- bringing record turnout, billions of dollars in marketing and two intense runoffs for control of the U.S. Senate.
More than 400 campaigns for state, local and national races managed their digital ad buying through Basis' intelligent process automation platform, encompassing more than $100 million spent across display, video, native, search and social media.
Basis' experience in this category has been honed by more than a decade working with candidates and advocacy groups at all levels, from Presidential to local elections. Our activity in 2020 gives us a diversified view on how digital media was utilized and what trends have emerged.
This report is the second time Basis researched how U.S. elections spent on digital ads. The first report (https://basis.com/blog/blog-midterm-adtech-mvps) unveiled the digital MVPs that delivered winning strategies and tactics of the 2018 midterms. At the time, programmatic buying revealed itself as a tactic of choice offering speed and agility to launch campaigns, optimize on the fly, and reach audiences on high-performing media. Now with data from another cycle, the game-winning playbook seems to be set for aspiring 2022 midterm campaigns. This is fortunate because they’ve got less than a year to prepare.
Section 1: Programmatic Advertising Wins the Votes (Dollars) Again
The interest in programmatic advertising for political campaigns aligns with the general market trends across the industry—nearly two-thirds of digital ad inventory was sold programmatically in 2H 2020, according to eMarketer (subscription required).
Connected TV helped drive share gains for both programmatic and direct buying, as advertiser interest and inventory availability continually increased across the digital ecosystem. The share of social advertising declined, with Twitter’s political ban and YouTube’s restrictions having a major effect. Additionally, Facebook’s shifting policies and political ad ban immediately before Election Day (and then after) diverted a big chunk of spend to other channels, as campaigns showed immense ad activity in the final days before ballots were counted. The next election will likely see an even greater dominance of programmatic. The question is what other budget bucket will it take from?
Section 2: Challenger CTV Flexed Some Muscle; Watch Out in the Midterms
Basis' Spring 2020 political advertiser survey indicated that CTV was the most promising development among political marketers (63%), which bore out in spend. 2020 saw nearly a 3x increase in portion of overall programmatic spend allocated to CTV over 2018.
Among share of impressions, CTV only increased from 3% to 6% of overall impressions. The delta between spend and impressions share growth speaks to the premium that advertisers pay for quality CTV placements: eCPMs for CTV averaged 3.5X that of other platforms/devices. Advertisers have determined that the format – typically unskippable and on the “big screen” – is worth the premium, carrying the emotional power of TV combined with greater targetability.
Besides programmatic, the CTV surge also contributed to many larger trends in digital video and direct buying. Much of this interest from marketers aligns with the growing audience turning to this digital channel as they were stuck at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Section 3: Video Ads Gained Super Majority Control of All Ad Spend
Video receives the most digital ad investment from political campaigns. This is boosted by the usage growth trends for programmatic advertising and in CTV interest. Because most political campaigns already prioritize TV spot production as the central element of creative strategy, it’s natural to utilize those assets in digital channels. Transitioning a linear ad to CTV is a given. Doing the same for an ideal mobile or a desktop experience requires some extra work that can be a challenge for campaigns. The variances in screen-size and user mindset necessitate shorter video lengths for these digital channels. And often, less-highly produced “raw” video ads generate greater impact than repurposed :30 TV spots.
Section 4: Facebook and YouTube Restrict Political Ads, Yet Still Top Direct Vendors List
Direct buying provides unique value for campaigns, delivering guaranteed reserved inventory within in-demand content, and delivering ad experiences that are not available through biddable channels.
Direct buying takes on many forms, as demonstrated by the top three. Facebook delivers an automated self-serve experience, though it’s become less user-friendly for political buyers because of additional restrictions and multi-step ad approvals. Hulu provides a white glove experience through a salesperson and service team. YouTube offers a mix of both, though it was hampered by Google’s political targeting restrictions. Nevertheless, these three again showcased their command in political advertising for the past few years, despite their own restrictions.
The new entrants to the top 15 are another indication of CTV’s influence in political advertising. When considering the relatively limited amount of CTV inventory, factored by the massive amounts of spending leading up to election day, vendors offering these ad experiences capitalized on a time of high demand and low availability. Additionally, it’s fair to assume that these companies capitalized on the challenges of political ad targeting on YouTube.
Dropping out of the top 15 were notable publishing brands operating regional and local newspapers, such as McClatchy, Tribune, Gannett and Lee Enterprises.
Pandora’s drop (4th in 2018 to 15th in 2020) as well as Spotify’s complete political ad suspension illustrate the significant decline in digital audio for political campaigns.
Section 5: Unprecedented Elections = VERY Precedented Ad Spend Timing
Despite the noise and dialogue around early voting (in-person or mail-in ballots as much as a month before election day), half of ad budgets were used within 30 days before Election Day. Although many of those campaigns were driving turnout efforts, the fact that 25% of budgets were reserved for the last week of October showed the focus on last-minute GOTV (Get Out the Vote) impact. Considering the record turnout of voters overall, we conclude that many early voting efforts accomplished their objectives, and likely added to high turnout on Election Day.
The Georgia runoffs infused new spending and activity that was not accounted for in most pre-Election ad spend forecasts. Although it didn’t boost November spending heavily, the December spending levels ran very close to February numbers during the thick of the Democratic primary sprint to Super Tuesday.
The data suggests that during a time when the country is heavily polarized and individuals seem to have near certainty on who they would vote for, the biggest challenge for the political marketer is to ensure potential voters take action at the ballot box.
Section 6: Sound Digital Strategies Correlate with Winning Campaigns
With high advertising volume reserved for the ending stages of the elections (and the additional activation for the runoffs), Basis was able to process, before Election Day, 650 million programmatic ad impressions in the final 10 days and 225 million CTV impressions in the final four weeks.
Frequency, exposure, recency and precision were key to driving turnout -- leading to 70% winning outcomes for Basis' campaign partners.
What Basis Clients Say
“We’re able to run our own highly targeted digital advertising campaigns in Basis with speed and flexibility that keeps our clients coming back time and again. It has also cut the time we spend on billing and reconciliation by half.” – Managing Partner, Public Affairs Firm
“Basis' team provides incredible support and scale during the heat of election season - we couldn't have pulled it off without them.” -- Vice President, Democratic Political Consultant
“Basis gives us the ability to buy sophisticated digital tactics with speed and scale, and increased communication and collaboration across all areas of digital buying. If you’re not working with Basis, you are making a big mistake.” -- Managing Director, Republican Digital Buying Agency
Georgia Runoffs on Your Mind
The Georgia runoffs culminated Basis' political advertising work in 2020. We collaborated with our agency client to win a U.S. senate seat through a combination of activating voters early, deploying CTV advertising at scale, engaging social media audiences through alternative platforms, and reaching a diverse electorate. Georgia was the highest turnout for a senate runoff in the state’s history, with our Candidate being named one of the newest U.S. senators. According to the Fox News Voter analysis, a key factor was the increased turnout of Black voters, which made up 32% of the runoff votes.
About Basis' Candidates + Causes Group
For more than a decade, Basis' technology and services have been trusted by agencies and consultants in politics, public affairs, and advocacy. Basis' Candidates + Causes team has collectively worked with 1500+ political campaigns and independent expenditure committees, and 2000+ issue advocacy advertisers over the past 15 years. Our proficiency for driving perception in government, in the public sphere, or among specific audiences is a differentiated and valuable asset in this field. Basis is headquartered in Chicago with 44 offices covering North America, South America and Europe, including a Washington, D.C., hub for its Candidates + Causes team.
SECTION 1: DIGITAL MEDIA EXCITEMENT
In April 2020, Centro surveyed 65 progressive, conservative and non-partisan agencies, consultants and advocacy organizations specializing in political marketing. According to their responses, connected TV and programmatic advertising are poised for a big election year. Of the respondents, 63% consider connected TV (CTV) as one of the top five most promising developments for their digital campaigns. CTV had the highest vote total by a wide margin, whereas in our 2018 survey it ranked as the fifth most promising development, selected by less than 40% of respondents.
As enthusiasm for CTV rises, excitement around programmatic advertising is holding steady—and was selected by 53% of respondents this year, and 42% in 2018.
The use of programmatic ad tactics is still new for many marketing professionals—however, the use of data will continue to be a key element for any digital campaign. In our 2018 polling, the top five developments that received the most votes were audience data, technology for connecting offline-online audiences (no longer in the top 5 this year), digital media confidence spurring more spending, programmatic advertising, and CTV. One consistency from two years ago is that social ad products ranked last again. While social channels undoubtedly play a role in most campaigns, their ad offerings don’t appear to enthuse political marketers.
SECTION 2: HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH
When asked what portion of overall media spend goes to digital, a majority of respondents said that digital budgets make up less than half of total media spend, with 62.5% reporting digital allocations under 40%.
This is in line with industry predictions that digital will account for 19-30% of total political ad spending in the 2020 cycle. This also confirms that political investment in digital still lags well behind other industries, as digital is expected to make up more than 50% of all US ad spend in 2020 according to various studies.
However, in our survey there were a significant number of respondents (30%) for whom digital makes up the majority of their ad spend.
While no one believes digital is getting an outsized share of spending within their budgets, respondents were nearly equally split between feeling their digital budget allocations are ‘too low’ and those who say it’s ‘just right,’ while the remaining 11% are ‘just guessing.’
A majority (65%) of respondents who had 24% or less budget allocations felt this is too low. For the group that indicated a budget of 25-39%, it was evenly split between those who said it is ‘too low’ and those that say it’s ‘just right.’
A majority (68%) of respondents who had a 40% or more digital budget allocation said it was ‘just right.’
SECTION 3: CASHING IN ON CONNECTED TV
The growth of CTV (consumer use and ad dollars funneled through it) is leading to battles to win budgets. A continuing industry question is who is best equipped to manage CTV budgets—is CTV digital or TV?
According to Centro’s 2018 election ad spend data, only 5% of political spending was channeled to CTV. But allocation is projected to grow dramatically this year.
Although there is perceived parity in winning CTV ad dollars, respondents from advertising agencies (vs Political consultants, Public Affairs Communications, Media Buying Agency, or Non-profit Organization) strongly believe (70% of them) that digital buyers were winning more.
SECTION 4: PROGRAMMATIC IS A POLITICAL AD STAPLE
The overwhelming majority of professionals feel that programmatic advertising has some level of importance to their campaigns this year. Overall, 78% said ‘Yes’ programmatic will be important, which is consistent with the response to our 2018 survey, when 77% chose Yes. The shift over the last cycle was that ‘I don’t know’ responses dropped to under 5% this year (from 13% in 2018), and respondents selecting ‘Somewhat’ important increased from 9% to 16%.
Presently, programmatic is how most digital impressions are transacted. The question is how political operatives choose to access this, whether it’s through self-serve platforms or contracted as a managed service from a partner.
In programmatic buying channels, the importance of data (whether it’s 1st or 3rd party) for an election campaign is evident because of the need to scale impressions with precision, to reach the right people.
Illustrating its general popularity, CTV (along with other forms of digital video) looks to be a highly utilized programmatic channel for political marketers.
More than half of respondents are excited about hyperlocal ads—a coincidence, with Centro’s 2018 numbers showing that the same percentage of political clients used this tactic for election campaigns.
Holistic reporting, a new concept, is not specifically associated with programmatic (because programmatic is normally activated in a silo); but 40% of respondents added it their top five list.
Notable laggards are native advertising and private marketplaces.
SECTION 5: THE COVID-19 FACTOR
Political marketers are not concerned about job loss or inability to work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regarding the pandemic, the biggest concern is campaigns running and ad budgets, because there’s only one event and only one desirable outcome.
Vote by mail and education around it is a new concern brought on because of the current state of the country.
SECTION 6: AREAS OF CONCERN
When it comes to overall concerns in digital media for political campaigns, 53% of respondents think COVID will distract from key issues.
The shifting policies of digital platforms is the biggest concern – they take up most of the spend while causing more complexity and confusion for the industry.
Targeting voters, proving ad impact, and winning budgets are also top of mind for marketers.
Misinformation and the factors around it are not much of a concern.
SECTION 7: UNCERTAINTY
Uncertainty is a common theme for 2020 and that is reflected in the outlook for political campaigns.
76% say the political environment will affect their desired outcome but are not sure whether it will be positive or negative. This is up considerably from 2018 when only 50% of respondents answering this way.
In 2018, 21% guessed that the political environment would have no impact, but this year, only 6% feel this way.
As a thank you to our industry peers and partners, Centro is donating $2 to Feeding America for each respondent of our survey.
About Centro’ Candidates and Causes Group
For more than a decade, Centro’s technology and services have been trusted by agencies and consultants in politics, public affairs, and advocacy. Throughout the years, Centro’s Candidates + Causes group has collectively worked with 1000+ political campaigns and independent expenditure committees, and 1000+ issue advocacy advertisers. Our proficiency for driving perception in government, in the public sphere, or among specific audiences is a differentiated and valuable asset in this field. Centro is headquartered in Chicago with 43 offices covering North America, South America and Europe, including a Washington, DC, hub for its Candidates + Causes team.
Opening day for Major League Baseball came early this year, and similarly the 2020 election cycle has kicked off earlier than ever before. So now is the perfect time for political operatives to hone their skills for the next big game by reviewing the hits and strikes of last season – and when it comes to digital media in the 2018 elections, programmatic advertising is the MVP (Most Valuable Performer).
This is just one of Centro’s takeaways from this past November’s elections, where our software, Basis, was used to manage political digital ad buying for 300+ state and local races throughout the country across display, video, native, search and social media.
The trends we observe point to competitive election strategies – as 73% of the races Centro was part of had winning outcomes. Now that the next election cycle has already begun, it’s imperative for candidates and advocacy groups to plan with these factors in mind order to maximize impact in 2020. Political marketers can study the winning playbooks, project how to use it for the next cycle, and make educated, yet bold, conjectures about how to differentiate campaigns and go the distance.
Let’s unpack what worked to get campaigns across home plate last season.
Programmatic Makes the Big Leagues
Programmatic ad budgets accounted for 60% of overall digital ad spend from political clients.
This was a 14% increase over 2016 allocations from Centro’s clients and is a stark contrast to the diminishing amount marketers buy directly from publishers. Even as recently as 2012, direct buying on key local and national digital publishers was a significant part of the overall game plan for proliferating a message among voters in specific parts of America. Now, only 16% of overall digital budgets are being funneled to this tactic.
Programmatic buying offers the speed and agility to launch campaigns, optimize on the fly, and still reach precisely-targeted audiences wherever they consume media. This was heavily utilized during the election cycle, especially as audience attention fragments across multiple digital channels and platforms. It’s a tactic that plays well for politics, where the people who operate in the space want the ability to score runs by moving ad money fast and diverting it quickly to the highest performing media.
Digital Video Remains an All-Star
Video ads made up 56% of digital media political spend.
Political campaigns have long loved the emotional impact of video. As a result, not much has changed in how the elections generate massive levels of TV ad spending. What is changing is how campaigns are complementing and extending TV buys by reaching voters with video ads on digital devices. Hulu and YouTube, which garnered sizable political ad budgets, illustrates how digital video ads can be utilized in powerful ways.
Furthermore, programmatic is a tactic often used to extend targeted digital video impressions across the board. While programmatic hasn’t opened the floodgates of TV budget shifting to digital, it has demonstrated how candidates gain the upper hand by delivering the emotional impact of video with precision targeting and cost-efficient pricing.
Another factor making an impact on digital video is the increasing availability of high-quality video through programmatic channels, including connected TV inventory. The potential win-win of CTV is undeniably appealing: the big-screen impact of television, in a non-skippable “forced viewing” environment.
Hyperlocal Hits a Home Run
Marketers have leveled-up the local advertising strategy.
“Hyperlocal” programmatic tactics, which utilize location pattern data to target residents of a district, or to geo-fence events and/or polling locations – were used by more than 55% of candidate and ballot campaigns using Centro’s technology.
In previous election cycles direct buys on local media sites played a much more prominent role for Centro’s clients. In 2012, 57% of political spend in our system went to local site buys, but that dropped to 30% in 2014, and then lower to 17% in 2016. In 2018, local site direct buying represented just 10% of political spend. This shift in the campaign playbook is largely due to programmatic technology and the available of high-quality local targeting at scale.
Leveraging Utility Players
As digital devices continue to multiply, so do the options for campaigns to reach audiences across platforms.
Political marketers, now more than ever before, have comprehensive options to create multiple touchpoints with a voter. This is due to a myriad of factors coming together, namely the explosive growth in programmatic advertising, improvements in device maps, and the availability of cross-device targeting. While serving ads on desktops and phones still dominate in programmatic ad spend, we experienced significant overall spend shift in connected TVs and tablets, which were virtually nonexistent in programmatic channels during previous election cycles.
One data point to watch is the impression-to-spend ratio, where the dollar multiple on connected TV ads is much higher than other devices, because of premium CPMs in this format. As CTV scale continues to grow, we’re watching to see if costs decline—or if increased demand keeps them relatively high.
Get Your Scorecard; Know the Players
Despite the rapid ascension of programmatic as a priority in political marketing strategy, site-direct buying still garners a significant amount of digital ad dollars.
Top non-programmatic vendors for Basis political campaigns in 2018
Among ad vendors, Facebook, YouTube, Hulu and Pandora were standout players. This was partly due to their limited inventory availability via the open exchanges, and the specialized targeting offered by some. But another significant factor is the sheer national reach they offer in every voting market and desire for premium reserved inventory.
The revenue share drops off a bit after the top tier, but it is made up of the most visible brands in news and media, such as Fox News, Washington Post, Spotify and CNN. Honorable mentions go to local newspaper publishers such as The McClatchy Company, tronc, Gannett, The New York Times and Lee Enterprises, that are closely chasing the top national media organizations on this list. In the middle of those newspapers is a bit of an outlier – ESPN.
If media players want steady site-direct sales, they should enhance data-centric audience targeting and improve speed to market. A compromise may be to shift to more private marketplace products or increase use of second-party data.
Leave it All on the Field
More than half of the advertising dollars spent in the 2018 elections were used during October and the November days leading up to the election.
On Centro’s Basis platform, we saw that 53% of political dollars in 2018 were delivered in the last five weeks before Election Day, and an astounding 21% of ad dollars spent in the last 10 days. It is common for political campaigns to spend more on the home stretch for many reasons—some strategic, such as GOTV (Get Out The Vote) efforts, and some practical, like late fundraising.
Digital media—and particularly programmatic buying – is uniquely suited to handle the need for speed and scale that is affected by rapid budget fluctuations. This activity isn’t caused by last minute discounts. Quite the opposite, the flurry of ad volume in digital media creates higher demand and more competition for the buyers. The upside is that supply is meeting the down-to-the-wire demands of the market.
Bring in the Closer!
Among the 300+ campaigns that utilized Centro’s Basis platform for the 2018 U.S. elections, 73% had winning outcomes.
Centro’s mix of technology and services provides our clients with a digital media home-field advantage in driving voters to take action. Centro’s experience has been honed by more than a decade of work with political and advocacy groups in races throughout the nation, encompassing candidates at all levels and local ballot measures. Our activity during the 2018 election season gives us a wide breadth of knowledge and a diversified view on successful campaigns using digital media.
How the game may change in the next two years.
Here are our predictions for 2020 campaigns:
But nothing stays stagnant in politics or in digital media, and an X-factor could still emerge that impacts the next elections. Keep your head in the game.
Centro is a global enterprise-class software provider for digital advertisers. Our technology, Basis, is the industry’s most comprehensive and automated digital media management platform. Through a single user interface, Basis converges the entire advertising workflow, enabling marketers to plan, buy, analyze and streamline campaigns for programmatic, direct, search and social. By unifying all major aspects of digital media into one platform, Basis breaks down silos, improves performance, and helps businesses grow profitably.
For more than a decade, Centro’s technology and services have been trusted by agencies and consultants in politics, public affairs, and advocacy. Throughout the years, Centro’s Candidates + Causes group has collectively worked with 700+ political campaigns and independent expenditure committees, and 800+ issue advocacy advertisers. Our proficiency for driving perception in government, in the public sphere, or among specific audiences is a differentiated and valuable asset in this field.
Centro is headquartered in Chicago with 40 offices across North America, including a Washington, DC, hub for its Candidates + Causes team.
The November midterm election may seem far away, but political operatives and marketers have been gearing up for this consequential series of events for some time. Centro tapped these folks for “ears to the ground” takes on digital media for political marketing and elections in 2018.
Respondents showed high optimism for digital budgets to increase. And many have an overwhelmingly high belief that programmatic advertising will be important for their digital campaigns. There was also much enthusiasm about audience data. However, proving ad impact to clients was the biggest concern. Contrast that with the minority of respondents being concerned about, arguably, the biggest general criticisms of 2016 elections – polling data and fake news.
Our survey, conducted in April 2018, spanned progressives, conservatives and non-partisan groups among 50+ agencies, consultants and advocacy organizations who focus on this specialty. Read on to learn about our survey results.
There is lots of optimism that digital budgets will increase, with a modest amount of respondents who “don’t want to guess” and very few who think it will stay the same or decrease. In 2018, it remains to be seen if the majority of dollars will be spent with just a few big platforms or spread across a wider range of sites and channels. A marketing strategy with a more diversified digital mix appears to be supported by responses that follow.
The optimism in the rise of digital budgets looks to be tied closely with the enthusiasm surrounding the role of programmatic advertising. We heard a resounding “Yes” from more than 3/4 of respondents, who say that programmatic advertising will be important to their efforts, and not a single respondent answered “no.”
Programmatic technology fuels many of the key elements in a political campaign’s digital strategy, including voter targeting, hyperlocal (aka geo-fencing), cross-device targeting, and connected TV. And it also brings pricing efficiencies and scale that help maximize campaign dollars, whether through self-serve technology or managed service partners. Ideally, these tactics should fit neatly with other aspects of a campaign such as social and search, so that all function with synchronicity.
When we asked what would be the most promising developments for digital campaigns this year, more than half of respondents selected “Audience data that is higher quality and more readily available.” The second highest response: “Improved technology for connecting offline-online audiences,” also speaks to confidence in data. For political and issue marketers, data is king, despite recent headlines around data usage and privacy concerns. New policies and regulations on the governance of people’s data may pose challenges in certain areas, particularly within social platforms, which might explain why social products ranked last among the choices. Perhaps social is reaching a peak, or maybe it just didn’t make an impression (see what we did there?).
Despite the multitude of headlines on this topic surrounding the 2016 elections, an issue that had the least amount of concern is “polling data accuracy.” Political professionals understand the nuances of how polling works, including its limitations—however, they still have a lot of confidence in its accuracy when applied properly. Interestingly, the choice of “Fake news or fake ads,” another headline-grabbing topic drawing tech giants to Capitol Hill for hearings, does not garner much worry, with less than 1/3 reporting concern.
The issue of most concern (identified by two-thirds of respondents) was “Proving advertising impact to clients,” which is reflective of the age-old desire to undeniably prove advertising works, combined with the underrepresentation of digital audiences in traditional polling, and challenges of measuring impact against objectives like opinion shift. Nearly half of respondents cited “Targeting specific voters effectively and accurately” and “Securing/expanding ad budgets” as the other top concerns. These top three concerns may go hand in hand, as the ability to prove effective and accurate targeting, and its impact, are essential to increase digital spending in this cycle and the next.
Nearly 80% of respondents believe that the current political environment will impact their ability to achieve outcomes, but most aren’t sure if it will have a negative or positive effect. Sometimes, despite the data science, resource and smarts, a campaign may be at the mercy of political climates that can shift gradually or quickly. As we all know, a lot can change between now and November.
The majority of respondents are focused on independent and swing voters more than turning out the base. This is understandable given the continuing surge in registered independents, up nearly 30% over a decade ago. Independents are critical to most campaigns; and while targeting them is easy, messaging that persuades them can be trickier – understanding the key issues and varying partisan leanings among independent voters is crucial. Now apply that with the challenges of understanding local issues, and one can see why this is top of mind for political marketers.
When we asked respondents to pick the best presidential candidate between Oprah, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, or themselves, more than half (36% for Oprah and 17% for The Rock) chose a celebrity over themselves. Though Oprah and The Rock have the immense wealth, visibility and business operations acumen to win a campaign, a little less than half of the respondents still believe they’d be better suited for the position than these celebrities. That’s a lot of self-confidence among marketing professionals.
Centro offers advertising solutions unifying programmatic and direct media buying, along with workflow automation, cross-channel campaign planning, universal reporting and business intelligence. For nearly a decade, political and advocacy groups from all sides of the spectrum have relied on our technology to boost media, team and business performance by enabling advertisers to plan, buy and analyze real-time bidding (RTB), direct, search and social campaigns in a single platform. To learn more, send us a note at email@example.com.
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In consumer advertising, incremental gains count for something. But in political advertising? It's a zero-sum game. You either achieve a goal or you don't.
The 2016 election season produced winners and losers — from the presidency to down-ballot measures and congressional races. For those of us in digital media and advertising who were part of this cycle, there's much to be learned that can be applied for future elections.
The Flow of Ad Dollars Is Based on Trusted Relationships
Advertising, especially in politics, is a people-driven business. As the industry (e.g., media companies, agencies, tech companies, etc.) braced for the election season a year ago, there was a fair number of industry folks who believed that, due to the high number of competitive races, political ad dollars would virtually fall from the sky. All they would have to do was catch them — so they thought. The simple plan would be to send a salesperson to D.C. to drum up business, or even to open an office in D.C. and hire a couple of specialists in the field.
And significant money was spent in the 2016 cycle, but the political winds were blowing it in the direction of marketing consultants who had already cultivated deep relationships with political groups. Most companies with existing political accounts were able to credit them to strong networks, political expertise, and tech savvy.
Political teams knew there was a need for digital capabilities in order to engage the public, with campaigns spending 23% of their social media budgets on mobile targeting in 2016, and 49% toward social, but they worked with partners that they trust to help them execute.
Data and Digital Dominate Political Advertising
Data-driven and digital strategies gained momentum leading up to the election. We saw a large number of down-ballot candidates prioritizing digital ads over other media because of the precise targeting to local audiences.
A rising number of candidates also incorporated more data into their campaigns compared to elections two and four years ago. Local campaigns turned to programmatic advertising for its cost-effectiveness and targeting efficiencies, while agencies managing statewide Senate or ballot initiative strategies emphasized geotargeting in areas where candidates had low support.
Many agencies used predictive modeling to assess how different types of messaging affected the likelihood of turnout and to identify areas where the candidate or ballot measure lacked support. I know of an instance when a campaign team analyzed its supporters and discovered particularly low awareness and weak support with cord cutters, leading them to invest in connected TV platforms. These are real-time data points that can influence the media mix.
Political campaigns increasingly invested in digital by reallocating advertising funds from mail and print to tech-based strategies. But, because banner ads don't inspire the same emotional connections videos do, candidates have continued their love affair with video — and television, in particular. However, they're also creating shorter, punchier, more “raw" videos that play well in digital channels such as social media.
The Data Was Not Wrong
Perhaps one of the biggest stories to come out of the election was how wrong the polls were when it came to predicting the outcome of the presidential election. Many questioned whether the data itself was faulty, but numbers do not lie. How people read those numbers, however, definitely matters.
Keep in mind that data was used for plenty of races and ballot measures, and they served those campaigns well. With the national election, the overall message from many state-by-state polls was that the presidential race was going to be close — and it was. But there were some assumptions made, such as predicting turnout likelihood based on recent voting history, which may have proved incorrect. Interpreting polling and voter file data is crucial to the overall marketing strategy.
The election may be over, but its effects on the advertising and media business are far-reaching. Digital media innovation tends to begin on the consumer side; then the political arena adopts it, and tried-and-true tactics make their way into advocacy.
With the end of this election cycle, issue-focused advertising will now ramp up as advocacy groups petition the new administration and Congress on a variety of causes. I expect real-time, data-driven advertising to play a stronger role in advocacy than it has in the past, especially as marketers become more sophisticated in their digital tactics.
It’s clear that 2016 will be a breakthrough year for programmatic advertising in politics. In fact, just this week, Borrell Associates raised its digital advertising estimate for political in 2016 by 8%, now projecting a 620% increase over 2012 spending.
Programmatic media buying offers the ability to target voters more efficiently, at scale, serving relevant creative across devices. But with that promise comes a host of pitfalls that political buyers need to be aware of: fraud, quality, and brand safety.
Smart buyers must protect themselves and their clients from the outright theft of their advertising dollars through fraud, but also have to be conscious of the environments that their ads appear in. At their most benign, misplaced ads are wasteful, and at their worst, they have the potential to be extremely embarrassing and damaging to a campaign.
Campaigns are struggling to find scale within quality content, with a reported 70% of premium publishers blocking political ads as a vertical on the open exchanges. Doing the extra legwork to create private marketplace relationships with publishers directly – or working with a partner who’ll take on that heavy lifting – is essential this year.
Centro is at the forefront of combatting fraud and creating safe, high-quality ad environments, and we made it part of our mission to educate marketers about these topics. So for this issue of Political Digital Digest, I’m going to focus on articles that highlight what you need to know to stay safe in the rough neighborhood of digital ads.
Each issue of Political Digital Digest brings you the latest news and developing stories about the innovative role digital media is playing in the 2106 election. Everything you need to know is right here, right now.
What You Need to Know
Examining the Ad Fraud Marketplace
http://www.campaignsandelections.com/campaign-insider/2674/examining-the-ad-fraud-marketplace Campaigns & Elections reminds us that if it sounds too good to be true…
Group finds campaign ads on ISIL-inspired videos http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/03/30/group-finds-campaign-ads-isil-inspired-videos/82446396/
The worst-case scenario example of why quality has to be a concern.
How Much of Your Audience is Fake http://www.bloomberg.com/features/2015-click-fraud/
A great behind-the-scenes overview of the fraud problem from Bloomberg
Why the Open Exchange Isn’t Always Ideal for Political Buyers
Who Should Be Responsible For Stopping Programmatic Ad Fraud?
If it’s in everyone’s long-term interest to stamp out fraud, why aren’t more stepping up? A look at the layers of participants and the role they play.
DSP Spotlight: Buying for Quality with comScore Bid Ratings https://centro.net/blog/centro-dsp-spotlight-buying-for-quality-with-comscore-bid-ratings/ Learn how to use this data to select the best-quality inventory for your campaign in Centro DSP.
Webinar: The Many Faces of Ad Fraud: Our ad fraud expert, Ian Trider, is hosting a 3T Spotlight webinar on April 20, focused on how you can protect yourself against the many forms of ad fraud, learn more here.