2016 Political Campaigns Stay Relevant With Digital Strategies

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, September 8, 2015

In the three years since President Obama’s reelection in 2012, political parties, PACs, and other operatives are excited to harness the untapped potential of digital advertising to influence voters with hyper-targeted, relevant messages supporting their candidates or causes.

Once a drop in a multibillion-dollar ocean of media spend, online political advertising is poised to play a much bigger role as political money adopts data-driven strategies to scale and personalize their campaigns. Though online will account for only 8% of political media budgets in this election cycle, according to advertising research firm Borrell Associates, the growth will be nonetheless explosive at $955 million, up from $270 million in 2014 and a mere $14 million in 2010.

In addition to growing in size this time around, the campaigns will also gain sophistication. Insiders consider the last midterm election cycle a dry run for 2016 presidential contest. Digital political ad firms like DSPolitical, CampaignGrid, and Targeted Victory have already geared up and launched the first sorties of an election war that will last the next 14 months. Here are three trends that I think we will see for both sides of the political spectrum:

Tailored Messages

It seems common sense that psychology and advertising go hand in hand but, until recently, political advertisers haven’t had tools to help them tailor ads to their constituents’ values. For many politicians, the core strategy to winning is ensuring voter turnout from their base, the already like-minded constituents who believe in their message—or converting the swing voters. They’ve seldom tried to expand their base.

Using voter registration data, candidates now have the opportunity to target messages that resonate most closely with an individual’s concerns. Then, using intelligent dynamic creative optimization, they can alter the positive/negative spin of those advertisements based on the reaction they want. For example, a liberal candidate wanting to reach Iowa environmentalists could target ads to registered voters in the Quad Cities who have recently searched for “Toyota Prius” online.

Let’s consider another example. In 2012, the American Psychology Association uncovered interesting insights around imagery and the emotional reactions they generated. For instance, positive imagery of children waving American flags made parent voters lean more to the right, with little impact to the younger audience without children. Within the campaign’s digital ad campaign, injecting this type of intelligence into an algorithm can yield results online, because you can couple the information with real voter data, allowing for a tailored message based on audience demographics: women, families, young voters, urban, rural, and so on.  

Sequencing Eases Message Fatigue  

Look no further than Ohio to understand the issue of ad burnout. This battleground state gets bombarded towards the end of any election with messages desperately trying to sway the minds of swing voters. We can only imagine one thing more annoying than constant political messaging; that is, when the message itself is constant. Persistence is key but relentless digital messaging will exhaust even the most active, inclined citizen.

Advances in viewability tracking and cross-device analytics are a critical component to preventing such fatigue. Political advertisers now can embed intelligence into their ad serving that allows for intelligent decisioning to better sequence advertising messages. It also allows for more advanced frequency capping of those messages, avoiding the “blindness” that was so prevalent in the last election cycle. This smart, managed sequencing will be critical to capturing the attention and respect of younger voters who have made all the difference in the last two election cycles. 

Paid and Unpaid Blur

The political arsenal for 2016 will certainly include more YouTube videos and meme-worthy animated GIFs designed to socialize on Facebook, Twitter Instagram, and even Vine.

Take for instance Jeb Bush’s recent jab at Donald Trump on Twitter. It is reminiscent of Mitch McConnell’s crude video to YouTube that skewered his opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes in 2013. The mash-up video entitled "What Rhymes with Alison Grimes?" was a compilation of video clips showing Grimes asking that very question in an auto-tuned screech. The video ad spread like wildfire, garnering more than 600,000 views on YouTube and generated thousands of shares across the web.

Donald Trump shot back at Bush on Instagram and Facebook, attacking Bush’s stance on immigration to defect and bolster the narrative that Bush is weak and “low energy.” Look for The Donald and others to directly feed the social message into an ad unit, expanding the message beyond the boundaries of social media, to wherever the campaign chooses to place the ad. For example, if a candidate tweets a response to any upcoming legislature decision, that tweet is not only seen on Twitter, but also across every single digital ad buy, instantly relayed to all the viewers regardless of if they are on Twitter or not.

Politico predicted that 2016 would see over a billion dollars in digital advertising spend, outdoing newspapers, direct mail and telemarketing for the first time. Where data, technology and ad marketing now come together, these campaigns have incredible tools at their fingertips. They are armed to shift the entire tenor of their elections. If they empower their teams to use these tools from the outset, it’s doubtless they will see real impact for their efforts on Election Day.

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