Owning The Virtual Ground Game In The Presidential Election

Recent presidential elections have employed innovative methods to reach voters and escalate campaigns’ ground games.  In 2008, Team Obama was praised for jumping into social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube, and even announced Joe Biden as his running mate via text message.

By 2012, the Obama campaign was an integrated, multiplatform machine that featured a presence across all major social media outlets, plus mobile initiatives including donations via Square, text messages and a mobile app.

A lot has changed since 2012. We live in a world where information is being thrown at voters from an even greater multitude of channels and platforms, and it’s forcing political marketers to up their virtual ground game with digital advertising that can reach and sway voters.

With the savvy use of the voter file, candidates can target specific people as opposed to spending big dollars on TV ads, a largely untargeted method that has the potential to reach a wide audience but doesn’t necessarily impact voters.

In 2016, campaigns have the opportunity to communicate directly to voter segments and deliver insightful, well-positioned messages that align the voter’s passion points and preferences with the candidate’s. Interestingly, 31% of likely voters didn’t watch live TV in the past week.  It’s time for political campaigns to come down from their antennas and stop relying on traditional television ads to engage the right individuals with nuanced and deftly delivered messages that truly matter.

Case in point? Senator Marco Rubio’s recent big TV push. Team Rubio poured money into television ads while campaigning in Iowa, rather than focusing on local outreach and targeting. Even as it became clear Donald Trump would monopolize news coverage and make it hard for Rubio’s television strategy to connect, he continued with the big spending. This concentration on TV contributed to Rubio losing his home state, before suspending his campaign altogether.

Given that television advertising isn’t working, how can  candidates share their message using the best form of storytelling -- sight, sound, motion -- but with the added ability to reach the right consumer, at the right time, on the right device?

When candidates are planning their digital ground game strategy, they must place a higher focus on digital video. As the fastest-growing media, with mobile video views in particular increasing 74% over the course of 2015, it is the best way to reach consumers with a highly targeted message while utilizing the power of story-telling.

And it’s doesn’t need to feel like an additional step. Candidates can use their already developed TV assets on digital channels.

By using digital video, candidates are able to leverage their voter file data to target specific messaging to voters according to their basic demographics -- race, gender, geo and voting history -- but also layer on interests and social affinity.  

As in the past, individual battleground states and counties will have a major impact on the outcome of the campaign.  Strong digital voter profiling and geo-targeting, combined with appropriately matched messaging, will be a critical part of both the persuasion and get-out-the-vote strategy.

On Nov. 8 voters will not be standing in line at their polling location looking at a TV screen.  They will spend their time looking directly at the most personal screen they own: their mobile device.  An effective all-screen digital strategy will use voter file data, retargeting and geolocation to influence turnout and results until the last West Coast poll closes.

The success of these methods can be shown by the candidates still in the race. Working with the data company Cambridge Analytica, Senator Ted Cruz’s camp executed an effective digital advertising ground campaign in Iowa that focused on local issues such as the state’s fireworks ban, to connect with voters on topics important to them. Cruz’s ability to connect with Iowans using targeted video ad creative ultimately led to him beating Donald Trump in Iowa's caucuses.

All the untargeted TV ads in the world couldn’t replace the impact a good local digital ground game has on reaching individual voters. While untargeted television advertising is scalable, campaigns spending on TV are not going to see great results, and instead should focus on making their virtual ground game stronger by using digital video to target voters locally with high-impact advertisements. We have already begun to see successful campaigns spend big on digital and mobile to sway new and independent voters through more addressable and targeted messaging than ever before.

1 comment about "Owning The Virtual Ground Game In The Presidential Election".
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  1. John Grono from GAP Research, April 17, 2016 at 7:53 p.m.

    "Given that television advertising isn’t working...".   That is a BIG call.   Rubio's TV advertising might not be working but that doesn't mean that TV advertising isn't.   Did you consider that maybe the product is at fault, or the message, rather than the medium.

    It's akin to running an online campaign, having it fail, and deducing that online advertising doesn't work.

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