Candidates for public office love events. Country fairs, town halls, campus visits, and, of course, political conventions. In the old days of politics (before 2008) candidates and their surrogates would even stand on street corners at busy intersections with a fist full of flyers. They mucked up traffic for 30 seconds madly dashing from car to car distributing their pledges as we anxiously waited for the light to change.
Although candidates still engage in random rituals like these, (and most of us wave back politely), the tool set of campaigning has graduated. Most candidates today have come to embrace a more precise audience-driven campaign model. The use of voter data and demographic profiling combined with social media and email allow candidates today to channel their precious campaign dollars exclusively to the part of the electorate who will bring home the win for them on Election Day.
Social media changed campaigning forever in 2008. Email targeting became all the rage in 2012 and 2014. The low cost of entry made them the preferred tactics for engaging directly with those who were persuadable and likely to vote your way. Virtually every campaign today employs a robust social and email strategy. While neither of these tactics is going away any time soon, the use of targeted email and social media by some politicians has become intrusive, overused and more than a little annoying — exactly the opposite result that the candidate wants and the medium was designed for.
Social media and emails may be keeping more candidates off of street corners, but there impact may no longer provide the obvious competitive advantage it once did. Digital agencies and campaigns are looking at “what’s next.” In these early days of the 2016 planning cycle, the conversation seems to have settled around a few topics; digital television, pre-roll video and a new tactic — event targeting.
Digital agencies, demand-side platforms and campaigns plan to tap into television budgets with programmatic audience targeting. With as much as 80% of campaign budgets still designated for television, this is an appropriate investment. However, the number of voters supported with digital TV infrastructure versus linear television is likely to mean that programmatic TV advertising may take more time to fully mature.
With the programmatic RTB at over 50% and mobile rising to over 25% of total digital ad spend, pre-roll video inventory management will be key to reaching more unique voters with persuasion messaging in 2016. In the 2014 cycle, we saw a rush on pre-roll inventory, especially at the state and local levels. This will cause agencies to reserve pre-roll inventory early in order to not come up short. Agencies are also looking at non-cookie-based targeting to improve reach. This is especially an issue on mobile devices that don’t support cookies, which will likely make up a higher percentage of user devices and pre-roll viewership.
Event targeting may prove to be a key factor in the coming cycle. It is one tactic design to be executed within the context of a campaign strategy. With near 100% reach and precise location targeting, campaigns are able to get creative and contextual with their online messaging. They can reach aligned voters in town halls, the party’s primary, at the convention hotel, the local Starbucks, airports, even the Senate and Congressional office buildings.
Real-time bidding technology has matured to the point where exchanges and data management platforms can now support IP targeting, wifi hotspots and geo-fencing of most public ISP delivery points. While Facebook and Twitter do a great job allowing their membership to report to friends what is going on at an event, they can be bounded in reach by their network coverage. With event targeting, all participants who are carrying their mobile devices can now be reached out to with a proactive outbound message through infomercial style videos and display advertising within the context of any event they attend.
Executing a political campaign today involves running a gauntlet of “campaign events,” including television appearances, debates, conventions, rallies and fundraisers. Some candidates will undoubtedly continue to hand out flyers to random voters at traffic lights, but others in the 2016 cycle will recognize the advantages of event targeting and begin to target attendees with the exact message they want communicated while those potential voters are in the mood to pay attention.