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Will Digital Be the Decider in This Year’s Elections?


Liberty's too precious a thing to be buried in books...” – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

October is THE huge month in terms of political advertising, with most of it going to TV – especially at the statewide and local level. Problem is, voters’ media consumption habits are changing. Digital is where it’s at for a growing number of voters. Online streaming, mobile, and multi-screen are growing leaps and bounds. Of course, with that comes the opportunity for personalization and segmentation around preferences. Campaign marketers, who are under pressure to produce results, are working furiously to insure the candidate’s online buys are not going to wasted impressions.

To help with that, political advertisers and consultants have jumped on programmatic ad-tech big time. Armed with razor-sharp targeting options, ad-tech campaigns can quickly and easily target ads directly to specific voters. Everyone’s doing something along these lines because no campaign wants to be caught behind the digital 8-ball in this year’s midterms. According to a new STRATA political survey, 85 percent of political agencies plan to use programmatic ads for their political media-buying efforts this year. The company says the agencies polled represent roughly 75 percent of total political advertising billings.

That’s interesting, but it may not be enough. Watch for these three trends to make a difference: 


Pew Research's January 2014 report says 58 percent of US adults have smartphones and 42 percent have tablets. As brands will be quick to tell you, having a mobile strategy is absolutely critical in reaching and influencing your target. Back in the 2012 campaigns, mobile was more about cool candidate apps. Polling services like The Winston Group were focused on being able to build apps that let your supporters “do cool things.” While millions of voters in the U.S gained access to information about their political choices using their mobile smartphone, it was still a novelty.

Not anymore. In 2014 voters are using their mobile smartphones to research political candidates and share information on social media. At the same time, advertisers are making great strides in deploying sophisticated techniques using data and digital to measure real-time customer sentiment. As the Guardian points out, for campaigns this “means parties will gain the ability to react instantly to opponents' announcements, dialing up campaign messages based on political polls or real-time social media sentiment analysis. This has the potential to revolutionize political campaigns, like we've never seen before.” Case in point: A candidate for governor is using an app called Tiny Candidate to organize volunteers and send “push” notifications to announce breaking opposition statements and encourage action.


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Digital video has also emerged as a media preference for voters. According to a recent survey by Google, fewer voters watch live TV and more of them are looking to nontraditional video delivery systems. Twenty-seven percent said they streamed video content in through their TV, 26 percent said they watched on a smartphone and 26 percent said they watched on a tablet. Those percentages are all at least 10 percentage points higher than they were in June 2012.

Michael Beach, Co-Founder and Partner of Targeted Victory, a voting research firm, puts it this way: “The industry is hungry for data around media consumption for political campaigns, specifically regarding interaction with multi-screen digital video.” In June 2014, a survey confirmed growing multi-screen viewing trends and highlighted the positive impact of using digital media to build a successful and strategic political campaign. In fact, 66 percent of registered voters surveyed said they would ‘likely view online video highlights’.

Beach goes on to say that campaigns find themselves “data rich and content poor”, meaning they have tons of data and now the trick is to match that data with content that’s relevant and that resonates with the target. He gives the example of a 90 second video that was created to understand two slightly different targets among women. One group watched the streaming video for 52 seconds; the other for less than 20 seconds. The next step says Beach is to figure out why and make adjustments in real time.

Predictive Data

This year, in addition to traditional data, there is a growing amount of data collection around other voter activities - what voters buy, what they watch, what they like and what they share. This data can be used to predict any number of things, from which political party to how you stand on a given issue to how persuadable you are to change your vote. Social media marketing has been perfecting ‘sentiment data’ for a few years now, which adds a new dimension to the picture.

Political candidates and advocacy groups need to be able to reach these people where they are. Mastering mobile, video and predictive data is a relatively new skillset for agencies and marketers, much less for political campaigns. But the massive shift of consumers to mobile and the multi-screen craze is taking hold and premium publishers, agencies and advertisers are planning to rally around mobile programmatic as much as possible.

One thing is for sure. Data matters in politics. Ads matter in politics. Will voters produce measureable data that proves we’re in a brave new world? We won’t know for a few weeks, but this could be a magic combination in the 2014 midterms and beyond.

Beverly Macy is author, educator, and thought leader in social and digital business and a frequent contributor to Say Daily. She is also the author The Power of Real-Time Social Media Marketing and a host of Social Media Radio.

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