Read this piece on Cook Political Report here.
Part online dating, part online trading, “programmatic” advertising is the automated matching of ads targeting specific types of audiences with available ad inventory reaching those audiences. Figuring out how this might work for television is one of advertising’s hottest parlor games, still more concept than reality. But the technology is quickly transforming digital. eMarketer projects that programmatic’s share of all digital display ad spending will grow from 45% in 2014 to 63% in 2016. In politics, digital strategists believe it’s being adopted as least as fast as it is for commercial use, if not faster.
This is a notable shift. While much of what happens in political advertising is either cutting-edge for the ad industry as a whole or too extreme for it, political advertisers’ embrace of digital historically has lagged. For years, campaigns siloed digital within their paid-media operations, throwing it a little money from time to time to buy ads website by website.
Buying digital is “difficult, messy work,” wrote Derek Willis in his recent look at why the medium has been slow to catch on. Of course, that’s what political advertisers used to think about buying local cable. All those networks and all those shows, multiplied by all those cable systems? Too difficult and messy for many campaigns to undertake. Then the cable industry started putting packages together to save campaigns the trouble and cable took off. Programmatic does this, too. On steroids.
Being essentially automated, data-driven targeting, programmatic advertising is making digital much easier for campaigns to love. Upload your voter file-and increasingly, your other assembled data-and you’re on your way. Shannon Lee, head of digital advertising at Democratic firm Precision Strategies, says programmatic is “so comparable to direct mail, it’s really easy to understand for political folks because direct mail is such an institution.” More than 70% of GOP firm Targeted Victory’s total digital buy in 2014, all placed programmatically, was targeted not just at certain types of voters but at specific voters thanks to their campaign clients’ growing investment in data “and much better ad tech,” says co-founder Michael Beach.
Minus the fanfare other hot technologies used in politics often receive, programmatic has gained acceptance to the point where 2016 may see any or all of the following advances:
Dedicated content development. Start with the easy one. Digital strategists and analytics experts and agree, online advertising needs to be about more than hiring a videographer or showing your TV ads on smaller screens (or the opposite: shooting “TV ads” and posting them only online). Treating digital as a unique channel requires the creation of unique content, which theoretically requires campaigns to create more infrastructure to produce it.
Accountability. With politics’ premium on speed leaving campaigns craving real-time accountability, programmatic “offers advertisers the potential for greater voter targeting and pricing transparency,” says Peter Pasi, vice president of political sales at Collective, a firm specializing in digital audiences.
Many platforms already provide fast metrics to satisfy increasingly savvy corporate advertisers who are focused on ad viewability-did an ad actually display?-and who “cut partners and plans when they don’t meet a certain bar,” Lee says. She predicts that these built-in reporting systems, and ones provided by outside firms like comScore, will improve between now and 2016 and that political advertisers of a certain scale-say, at the presidential and major statewide level-will not only be able to afford them, but could further refine them specifically for use in politics.
Mobile. Think about how much time we spend each day looking at our phones. Yet the ability to target voters through mobile ads lags well behind where we are with targeting them via their desktops or laptops. What has stood in the way of mobile becoming as proportionately big in political advertising as it should be are certain issues with mobile cookies that hinder targeting. Several tech companies are working toward universal identifiers that are “bigger than cookies” and would enable advertisers to target the actual owner of a phone rather than targeting app by app, Lee says. Such technology could finally make mobile big business in time for 2016.
Private exchanges. The two months leading up to Election Day are as nuts for buyers and sellers of digital as for TV. Just as recent cycles have seen political advertisers lay in their TV ad buys earlier and earlier, so will they start negotiating early with content platforms for pricing on bigger and bigger swaths of digital ad inventory, then executing those buys programmatically in the fall. Content platforms will increasingly create “private exchanges” to allow advertisers to do this. CNN has been a big early adopter.
Adoption for TV. Saving the thorniest for last. ESPN recently created new TV ad inventory during its popular newscast SportsCenter to test-sell programmatically. Advertising and consumer dynamics expert Gerard Broussard has predicted that more networks are likely to jump into the programmatic pool this year. Could the technology ever be used for political TV advertising specifically?
Media buyers cite politics’ uniquely intricate matrix of TV ad rates as the main obstacle to success for programmatic: not only does every spot have multiple potential prices based on how much certainty the advertiser wants about when the ad will air, but the rates vary depending on whether the advertiser is a candidate, political party or outside group.
More broadly, programmatic and digital click, so to speak, because there’s more inventory than there is demand, but for TV it’s the opposite, observes Will Feltus of GOP agency National Media. “Because there’s relatively little inventory to sell, technology isn’t going to add value to selling it.” The shift toward programmatic ultimately “has driven down and commoditized the value of digital ad inventory,” Broussard says. Current TV stakeholders have a real interest in keeping that from happening in the comparably small and volatile vertical of politics, where on top of the commissions that still prevail across advertising, one-to-one negotiations let buyers leverage relationships to try to gain advantage for their clients and let stations adjust rates ad hoc to make more money.
And yet, GOP digital strategy firm Targeted Victory built a platform in 2014 to facilitate TV ad buying. At the least, it’s fair to assume that if programmatic TV buying does take hold in politics by 2016, it won’t be through those profiting the most from it now.
Read this piece on Cook Political Report here.