Digital's Time Will Come For Political Advertising. Now Is Not That Time, Say Top Ad Operatives

Advertising is a meritocracy, so “what’s working is where the money goes” says Russ Schriefer, who, from one important perspective should know.

He was the senior advisor and strategist for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, and is a partner in Strategic Partners Media, the big wheel consultants to Republican campaigns, and for now, he’s still advising--television is the way to go.

Schriefer was a keynote speaker at MediaPost’s political marketing one-day conference in Washington going on this morning and afternoon and being live-streamed right now.

His message was consistent with some of the comments of others on today’s panels, but it gets down to this: Digital’s time will come for political, but its time isn’t here yet.

Earlier in the morning, another featured speaker, Joe Rospars, CEO and co-founder of Democratic Party-favoring Blue State Digital, told MediaPost/”On the Media” host Bob Garfield that digital made up only 9% of the ad spend in the last election, but also seemed to suggest President Obama’s 2012 campaign couldn’t find enough places to spend its digital budget. (Rospars, chief digital strategist for the Obama campaign, said half of Obama’s donations came through digital advertising.)  

But the digital-television spending imbalance isn’t going to leap wildly in the near future. That’s in part because voting is the one thing in this country that old people are still credited for being able to do reasonably well. They also watch TV.

Schriefer made a advertising point broadcasting trade groups should bottle: Not only do voters react more and better to ads on television, it’s specifically broadcast TV viewers who really latch on to the message. “As long as the creative is halfway decent, they will spit back what I am saying.

“Broadcast is the only medium, basically, where that is happening. It doesn’t necessarily happen in cable either.”

Television’s trouble, Schriefer said, is that up-and-coming generations aren’t as tied to the medium as their elders.  

He noted  The Washington Post’ s Dan Balz, who on Sunday citied a new study  that concludes the nation has reached a tipping point in competition for viewers between traditional television content and all the other kinds.

So far, at today’s panel, it didn’t seem that many ad execs were inclined to tipping quite as much. But panelist Abby Sineni, a demographically-desirable research manager at Borrell Associates, anecdotally noted how she and her husband don’t read papers and absolutely always skip through television ads. Her point is that other people like them are best (and only) reached online.   

That’s the thing. People get older, and clearly, Schriefer said, the campaign dollars will follow.

Already, he said, there is research that shows that political advertising seen online, in conjunction with ads seen on television, leaves a much more favorable impression on viewers/voters. (It seems, in fact, just about time for somebody to compile a compendium of all the studies that seems to show online advertising is better as an important side course than the main dish, regardless of the category. That’s progess, I guess. )

The Balz column in The Post focused on the special congressional election in Florida’s 13th District  where Republican David Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink. Almost  almost $10 million was spent by both candidates, three-quarters of which was handed over to local TV.

But, Balz reports, the Tampa TV market covers eight congressional districts; the 13th district accounts for just 19% of the total population in the area. So, he said, that means a lot of people seeing those ads were merely spectators and millions of dollars werre wasted.

The way to get the best focus on voters in specific areas, is from cookies, said Jim Walsh, the CEO for DSPDigital, also on a panel. He said that alternatives—even targeting specific zip codes—results in significant waste.   

One Thing More: MediaPost’s Joe Mandese asked Blue State’s Joe Rospars if entertaining political stunts, like Laugh or Die’s “Between Two Ferns” appearance by President Obama could become a potent form of native political advertising in the future.

Rospars replied, “If there was an attempt to do sneaky paid content, that would be called out pretty quickly.” 

He's probably right, but what? Where’s the bottom for low achievement in political advertising?

1 comment about "Digital's Time Will Come For Political Advertising. Now Is Not That Time, Say Top Ad Operatives".
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  1. Roy Moskowitz from Reciprocal Results, March 18, 2014 at 3:18 p.m.

    TV or not TV. To buy or not to buy. These are the questions political campaigns well and poorly funded must ask themselves. Whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of an opponents’ negative TV commercial unanswered by one of your own or spend an outrageous fortune reaching viewers who can’t vote for you because they don’t live in your political district. Political campaigns that should embrace electronic media and refuse to seriously consider it as an option and those wasting precious financial resources on broadcast advertising when their race’s specifics indicate they should avoid it, equally frustrate me. Campaigns that refuse to advertise when they should and those buying television and radio time when they shouldn’t, are both guilty of bad decisions. I'm a big fan of geo-targeted political advertising, particularly repurposed commercials and other video creative, Voters can be targeted by IP address zip code. Some websites even have the capability to target based on Congressional or other political districts. Candidates should not squander money on Broadcast if their political districts make up only a tiny fraction of the audience. For example, only Big Apple citywide candidates and NY and NJ statewide candidates should should buy broadcast in the NY market. CT candidates such as Linda McMahon, shouldn't (Although I'm happy she threw away her money because I'm a Democrat). NY DMA Congressional, State Legislature and Council candidates should not buy broadcast. Cable is a better option for some districts and candidates, but for many, cable buys still include way too much waste. Geo-targeted online video ads would be the solution for candidates in districts that fail to reach a broadcast or cable audience composition critical mass.

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