The Newest Political Candidate: Programmatic

Forget the purported 15-year-old -- with a name worthy only of a 15-year-old -- that’s “running” for president. There’s an actual independent movement happening that has the potential to influence the 2016 election and, perhaps more significantly, future elections. It comes in the form of programmatic ad tech.

New forecasts from Borrell Associates, released earlier this week, painted a wilting picture of broadcast TV as it relates to political ad spend. Broadcast TV is expected to see $6 billion in political ad spend next year along -- up from roughly $5.75 billion in 2012 -- but that number is forecasted to dip to $5 billion by 2020 in favor of digital political ad spend, which “will have risen to within 30% of broadcast TV levels.” By 2020, Borrell estimates digital political ad spend to account for $3.5 billion.



The estimates make it clear that while broadcast TV is still the king of political advertising -- it’s expected to account for over half (52%) of all political ad dollars between now and the 2016 election -- marketers are expected to cast more votes for digital in the next half-decade or so.

Programmatic technologies are the reason why.

Borrell notes that by 2020, most or all of that digital ad spend will be via programmatic, and that’s because programmatic tech promises precise audience targeting. Is there ever a more valuable time to reach targeted audiences than during political races?

"These forecasts portray a future political ad spending landscape that is increasingly dominated by digital ad media choices,” writes Borrell in its report. “Given the parallel development of programmatic buying and selling of digital advertising, it can be expected that most -- if not eventually all -- of this ad volume will be automatically sold and purchased through almost instantaneous computer-to-computer transactions. A new day in political advertising has begun -- and it will continue to behave differently than any other advertising category.”

Additionally, according to new data from Targeted Victory, an audience targeting firm focused on Republican political candidates, roughly 75 cents out of every broadcast dollar gets wasted on the wrong voters. Target Victory collaborated with Google to present this data on a map.

Illinois’ 10th Congressional District was the most wasteful race in 2014, according to the data from Targeted Victory. Per the data, politicians spent about $19.1 million in broadcast TV for the IL-10 race in 2014, but some $17.7 million of that spend was wasted on the wrong voters (i.e. voters that could not vote in the advertised race).

In response to Targeted Victory’s data -- and perhaps indirectly in response to the Borrell study -- the Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB) on Thursday released a statement asserting that TV is still the way to go for political advertisers.

“While some districts are in multiple media markets, local broadcast television reaches more voters than any other platform,” stated Steve Lanzano, president and CEO of TVB. “Campaign ads are not effective if the right people don’t see or hear them, and the fact remains that local broadcast TV offers campaigns scientifically-proven ability to reach their target audiences, while digital advertising is still subject to significant viewability and fraud issues.”

At least judging based on Borrell’s estimates for the 2016 election, most marketers seem to agree with Lanzano's general point, as broadcast TV will still command the vast majority of their political ad spend. But marketers are no doubt experimenting more and more with digital ad tech as it relates to political advertising.

The TVB conceded that digital political ad platforms have some advantages, but fired back by saying that “none can compete with local broadcast TV in reach across all voter demographics.”

That is the crux of the argument on both sides of the ball. Broadcast television essentially allows marketers to throw a blanket on everyone to guarantee that the intended audience will be reached, while digital platforms contend that’s a wasteful approach.

The debate could go on and on. The ace up the TVB’s sleeve appears to be highlighting digital's vieawbility and fraud issues, while digital marketers could in return point to some statistics about TV consumers recording now and watching later (ad-free).

But the debate simply boils down to effective vs. efficient and proven vs. unproven. In any event, it is clear that there is some reshaping taking place in the political advertising arena. It’s just a matter of waiting to see how those pieces will ultimately fit together.

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