Jul 19 2022
Jackie Etter-Krause

Three Things to Know About Midterm Advertising in 2022


If you thought midterm ad spending was high in 2018, meet 2022: Campaign ad spend for this year’s midterms blew past $2 billion by July— before many of the primaries had even wrapped—and shows no signs of slowing.

A cocktail of factors, including the Supreme Court’s recent rulings, inflation, presidential popularity ratings, and a chaotic social media landscape, will make this election cycle different than any before.

To help political marketers keep their wits about them in this churning environment, we’ve identified three key trends to be aware of this year. Let’s dig in:

#1: Early Voting: Still a Thing

Of the many changes COVID thrust upon the political landscape in 2020, the expansion of mail-in voting and other early voting options is one that’s likely to endure. In 2020, 43% of voters utilized mail-in voting—a more than 105% jump from 2016. And while contactless and early voting options were especially important in pre-vaccine 2020, many who experienced the convenience of avoiding long lines on Election Day have no intention of turning back.

While many restrictive voting laws were enacted in 2021, legislators in a handful of states have worked towards expanding mail-in voting options: Kentucky, for example, has codified mail-in voting, while Nevada and Vermont will now automatically mail out ballots to registered voters before each election.

What does it all mean for political advertisers? Mainly that spending cycles will be longer than in pre-COVID years. That’s not to say there won’t be an election week spending bonanza, but given the number of Americans who are likely to vote early, candidates and causes advertisers will need to spread their dollars out over the weeks (or even months) prior to Election Day to reach early voters. And in the context of inflation and political polarization—which we’ll get to in a moment—political advertisers will need to spend and target efficiently, removing people who have already voted from their targeting lists (don’t worry, we’ll get to that too!)

#2: Tread Lightly Around Political Polarization

Political marketer or not, you’re likely familiar with the degree of political division in the U.S. And while it’s become the norm of daily life for many Americans, it’s critical for political advertisers to understand how that polarization is impacting the advertising landscape in order to best prepare for this year’s midterms.

The Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, in particular, will have far-reaching impacts. We predict this event will cause voters to turn out in higher-than-usual numbers this election cycle, making it even more critical for marketers to spend and market efficiently.

Beyond that, the sweeping legal change itself may impact the advertising industry in unexpected ways. For instance, people seeking information about abortions may choose to use search engines with reputations for privacy, such as DuckDuckGo and Startpage. If this does come to pass, the decrease in traffic on major sites like Google and Bing could have significant impacts on the keywords that marketers choose to/are able to bid on in auctions.

All in all, it’s too soon to tell exactly how the overturning of Roe v. Wade will impact the advertising landscape, but the fact that it will make an impact is hard to refute.

Even more, the issue of mis- and dis-information, particularly around politically polarizing topics, hasn’t subsided since 2020. Brands that have unwittingly placed advertisements on sites that peddle COVID-19 or abortion-related misinformation, for example, have reaped public backlash and wasted spend on placements that did more harm than good for brand reputation.

There’s also a strong case that advertisers actually have a moral responsibility to avoid placing media on sites characterized by mis- and dis-information, as their ad spend is actually funding the spread of that harmful content. And from a revenue perspective, avoiding low-quality sites is just good business: One 2021 report found that 85% of UK consumers surveyed would reduce their purchases of a certain brand if is appeared alongside misinformation.

#3: Embrace Digital for a Major Competitive Advantage

Pat yourself on the back—you’ve made it to the fun part of the post, where we get to discuss all the ways digital advertising innovations can help candidates and causes spend, target, and place ads more effectively in this rapidly changing landscape.

Spend Efficiently

Traditionally, political spend has picked up after Labor Day, with the most spend happening in the week leading up to Election Day. In 2020, we saw those trends move up by 1 to 2 weeks, depending on each state’s early voting laws. The need to advertise over a longer period of time, coupled with the added pressure of inflation and high demand, means political advertisers should keep efficiency at the forefront of their minds.

Many political advertisers have already caught on to the scale and precision offered by programmatic—in fact, in 2020, it was the most popular buying tactic for U.S. election campaigns. Programmatic delivers what political marketers need: speed in launching campaigns, optimization on the fly, and precise audience reach wherever voters consume media. Programmatic isn’t going anywhere, and the market will become more competitive as more and more campaigns tap into programmatic solutions—so it will grow increasingly important to tap into optimizations such as bid shading, which provides both cost- and time- efficiencies.

Target Precisely

Speaking of spending efficiently, this year it will be critical for advertisers to exclude people (or at least attempt to exclude people) who have already voted from their campaigns, since many will vote early. And while you may not technically have to deal with third-party cookie loss until 2023, candidates and causes advertisers can avoid public backlash from privacy-related blunders by leveraging privacy-friendly audience targeting solutions. Plus, learning how to implement them this cycle will only benefit marketers next year, when third-party cookies aren’t an option.

Contextual targeting, which identifies the digital spaces certain groups are most likely to visit based on page-based keywords and topics, is one tried-and-true alternative that avoids user data entirely. Hyperlocal geo-targeting is another powerful automated solution for marketers to have in their toolkits. Traditionally, marketers have had to manually identify the zip codes they want to target for certain State and local legislative districts, then upload that location data into a programmatic platform before utilizing it. A new first-of-its-kind feature in Basis automates the delivery of that voter data, quickening the selection and exemption of districts to target.

Choosing the right partners to get privacy-compliant targeting data from will also be key. For example, Basis DSP has integrations with specialized political data partners like L2, TargetSmart, i360, and DeepRoot, who provide regularly updated political data throughout the election cycle to give users the ability to target easily and efficiently.

Place Ethically

Digital advertising also offers solutions to protect candidates and causes from the dangers of placing media alongside misinformation. Basis DSP has partnered with NOBL, an automated solution that uses natural language processing and machine learning to categorize sites as high- or low-quality. When users activate the optimization, Basis automatically blocklists low-quality sites. By utilizing a responsible advertising partner like NOBL, political marketers can tap into the scale offered by programmatic without worrying about their media showing up in unexpected and unsavory places.

Diversify Your Digital Channels

Finally, advertisers should branch out into the digital channels that maximize their impact and efficiency this election cycle. Many political marketers are focused on old-school political advertising, but gone are the days of only a handful of cable channels: the fragmentation of linear TV means that it doesn’t offer the same mass-reach that it used to. As such, a well-rounded, multi-channel approach is the best way for political advertisers to reach their audiences in 2022.

Connected TV is catching on big time—in fact, CTV share in programmatic political advertising grew a whopping 280% from 2018 to 2020. And while CTV will come with a higher price tag leading up to Election Day—Basis’ Spring 2020 survey of political marketing organizations showed that eCPMs for CTV averaged 3.5X that of other platforms and devices—political marketers have determined that the emotional impact, targetability, and unskippability of CTV ads make it well worth the investment.

A channel that political advertisers aren’t tapping into, but probably should be? Digital audio. It was barely used in political ads in 2020 (in part due to platform-based limitations), but in 2022 it’s the fastest-growing category in digital advertising as a whole. Political marketers should consider the high-quality audiences offered by audio: long-time podcast listeners who have trusted relationships with hosts, for example, or Spotify—which now allows political ads, by the way—listeners who are completely engaged with audio entertainment as they commute or take care of household chores.

Midterm Marketing in 2022—Wrapping Up

With early voting, political polarization, and a churning digital ad market on the menu, political advertisers will have their hands full this election cycle. Now is the time when turning to trusted advertising partners can make all the difference.

Basis Technologies is home to the largest and longest-term politically focused advertising team in the ad tech space. Our political marketers have done this work for over 16 years, and our tech is constantly improving to meet the specific needs of our political advertising partners.

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