If Obama Had Focused On Content When Placing TV Ads, He Wouldn't Be President Today

Incredibly, political advertising seems to have surged ahead of the general market in using data and technology in TV ad buying. This past weekend, The New York Times Magazineran a cover story about the Obama reelection campaign’s use of data in buying and targeting more than $400 million in TV advertising.

The Times piece gave us a glimpse of how the Obama campaign significantly outperformed the Romney campaign in TV ad buying, where each campaign spent the lion’s share of their media budgets. Obama’s team leveraged precise, set-top-box data for their TV buying and targeting, rejecting the decades-old, broad ratings-driven approach that the Romney team employed, and which most marketers and their agencies continue to use today. Basically, the Obama tem used the anonymous viewing data to figure out which shows specific groups of voters were most likely to be watching and used that information to make smarter – and cheaper – buys.

Did smarter and cheaper TV media swing the election for Obama? It’s impossible to know. However, the election was close enough, and TV media was such an important part of the campaign, that it’s not hard to believe that the better use of almost one-half billion dollars of spend was a crucial factor in returning Obama to the White House. Plus, I’m a big believer in the power of advertising, so that notion is in line with my biases as well. As I read the article, I was struck by several concepts where what the Obama campaign did seemed to be at odds with what were used to in commercial advertising. Here are a few:



It wasn’t about the content. Unlike most general-market TV advertisers, who love to talk about how much they love the content of the shows they support (which, as you would imagine, provides immense pleasure and profits to the people who sell them those ads), Obama’s team didn’t talk about the content at all -- only about the audiences they were trying to reach and what the data told them. To them, shows were just surrogates for the specific groups of voters or influencers that they wanted to reach.

The rhetoric followed the action, rather than preceding it. It’s hard to read ad and media trades these days and not see someone’s quote about how they are going to start using data and technology to do a better job buying TV advertising -- and then they go right back to making the same upfront buys that they’ve made for years. In the ad business, rhetoric about change can precede actual actions and real change by years. Here, the Obama campaign just went out and did it, and didn’t talk about it until after the campaign was well over.

Unique group of people. A big theme of the story was the unique and quite talented group the campaign assembled to pull this off. They were true experts in data and direct marketing, not just folks from legacy media agencies “re-badged” with data and technology titles, which we see all too often. Instead, they were the types of folks you typically find attracted to start-ups and trying to change markets and get rich in the process. This was part of their motivation here, since their hope was to use the campaign work as a springboard to revolutionizing the entire $60 billion-$70 billion U.S. TV media marketplace.

I believe that if Obama had focused only on the content of the shows where his campaign bought ads, he wouldn’t be president today. What do you think?

4 comments about "If Obama Had Focused On Content When Placing TV Ads, He Wouldn't Be President Today".
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  1. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia, June 27, 2013 at 7:41 p.m.

    I agree Paula. My point is that in one of the biggest factors impacting the race - TV media buying - Obama "lapped" Romney by rejecting the legacy way of doing it.

  2. Rodney Mayers from Google, June 28, 2013 at 4:50 p.m.

    Ironically, his campaign was based on the "which shows specific groups of voters were most likely to be watching", it used content as a way of understanding what their target audiences were engaged in.

    No doubt he tailored his creative to the type of audience and the content environment versus the over generalized Romney blasts that fell on deaf ears as it was out of context and not targeted to anyone in particular. Romney's campaign was more akin to telemarketing.

    If Obama didn't know what his target audiences were watching, he still wouldn't know where to place his ads. I think content still played a role there and in good advertising it is a key component, along with great creative.

  3. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia, June 29, 2013 at 7:32 a.m.

    Good points Rodney. However, the point I was hoping to make was that the shows, or types of shows didn't drive the media strategy, the very tight target audience did. And, unlike the Romney campaign, they bought very deep into cable and into many, many smaller cable shows, where they could find their target audiences at higher concentrations. On the creative side, while I'm not certain, my understanding is that they used creatives that were tailored to the target audiences, not to the content.

  4. Brian Allen from Altitude Digital Partners, July 10, 2013 at 12:33 p.m.

    Great article. You are right overall, and to further the point we saw the same effect with online video. It really isn't about the content, it is about getting to the viewer demo of the content. Content is just the means to the end. Targeting the user profile/demo and aligning the advertising to the content needed to engage the user, by utilising real time data is where the Obama Campaign kicked Romney's butt.This furthers the idea that the delivery network is unimportant. What is important is; Who am I looking to message?, What content does there demo consume?, Where is that content consumed(network,cable,OTT, online,mobile)?, and When is it consumed? But, this is only one of the ways the Obama group focused on data. Data made the difference all the way around. This is the best case study in competitive advertising, using real time data, that I have ever seen. It is changing the way our industry(video content) looks at delivering ads, based on targeting data.

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