Breaking Through In 2016

Have you seen the latest polls? With over 18 months to go, the candidates are queuing up. Fundraising has begun in earnest for what looks to be a marketing money fest for Election 2016. 

On the GOP side, the Citizens United cabal is back with redux and rabid candidates battling for the “God, with a side of country” crowd. The Libertarians return with their message, “Get your government hands off my stuff.” And the skull-and-bones centrists are working the boardrooms and appearing on Fox news shows poll-testing their latest rendition of … “I really am a severely conservative candidate… .” 

The Dems are slow-walking this one by comparison. Embracing the inevitability of nominating a woman candidate, the party continues to troll the Obama email list for donations with “this is your last chance to meet the candidate for $5 bucks.” Ironically, the “likable enough” candidate, having been forced by the press to give up on her use of email, is busy raising money up and down Wall Street — which most folks suspected was the plan all along.

In 2012, Obama spent $52 million and Romney spent $26 million on digital. That projects to be paltry in comparison to a Borrell Associate estimate of an over 500% increase that reaches nearly a billion in online ad spending for the 2016 elections. Three reasons given: 

  • Obama broke through with Facebook in 2008, and successfully pivoted to display, video, and especially email in 2012. After reading the case studies, campaigns are no longer spooked by digital. Going off script from traditional TV spots and lawn signs is not something campaigns fear any longer. 
  • 2016 could be the year that campaigns acknowledge that TV broadcast is shrinking. Linear TV, cross-device, and spot cable buys using programmatic technology will all increase but it won’t be at the expense of online or social spending. With 85% of the voting population online compared to chasing a 5% to 10% TV share, candidates will be active in pursuing digital options. 
  • This will be the election cycle of the tablet, smartphone and wifi hotspot. Five to ten candidates on one side of the debate and (maybe) two on the other will result in a major uptick in new “gotcha moments” with lots of creative and digital inventory. More Facebook and Twitter postings than ever before will correlate to inventory growth in social and video.

Of course, the objective of marketing is more than spending money. Marketing has got to break through with target voters. In a political context, Obama broke through with Facebook in 2008, and again with email in 2012. In 2014, both parties caught up with social and mobile technologies to drive the ground game and a strong get-out-the-vote effort. 

So where will the break through come from for 2016?

A popular bet is television. Campaigns are lining up for satellite subscribers, spot cable, over-the-top, and cross-device linear programming buys. Candidates will have plenty of money to try everything, but whether the technology and the supporting infrastructure will be ready for prime time is still a question. 

Event targeting is also emerging. “ET” is a convergence of voter targeting and media selection using (a fully baked) mobile, video, social, and wifi hotspot delivery system. With TV ads reaching 11% of network and 4% to 8% of cable viewers, the idea of micro-targeted broadcast to smartphones and tablets at locations like political conventions, colleges, coffee shops, in-flight wifi, hotels, town halls and even the workplace is appealing. ET offers campaigns a new opportunity to cut through the noise at the dinner table and deliver targeted messaging at scale to pre-qualified audiences.

To paraphrase the classic line from “Forrest Gump,” “The 2016 election cycle is shaping up to be quite the box of chocolates.” Not only will there be plenty of flamboyant candidates and incendiary messages, there will also be a mountain of cash to keep them fueled and in the race for a long time. Digital marketing could play a key role — the question is whether it will deliver a breakthrough or will it just be another “Dinner with Bill” invite in your email inbox.

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