Programmatic gets political in 2016

Programmatic gets political in 2016

By James Aitken, CEO and Co-founder of The Exchange Lab

Programmatic media buying, the automated, audience-based advertising purchased through platforms and exchanges, has become an inherent part of digital advertising. As political campaigns shift more promotional dollars to capture the attention of modern technology-savvy, “always on” voters, programmatic is gaining significant traction in the political arena.

Programmatic has proven itself as an effective digital marketing tool for commercial brands, and executives managing the strategic marketing for political campaigns are taking notice of this opportunity, especially with the upcoming 2016 U.S. presidential election fast-approaching.

Since programmatic technology has evolved and gained more acceptance by marketers as a valuable tool to engage with consumers and gain business insights, political campaigns and advocacy groups have an opportunity to target voters more efficiently, at scale, serving relevant creative across devices.

2016 will be a breakthrough year for programmatic in politics. According to a report from Borrell Associates, online political spending will reach nearly $1 billion in 2016, which is a growth of 500 percent since 2012. That is still a relatively small portion of the approximately $12 billion anticipated to be spent by candidates for all local, state and federal offices during the 2016 election campaigns.

Here are four key considerations for marketers as programmatic gets political:

Media consumption habits are changing

Since most modern American voters live and engage with media across devices, it is essential that political campaigns and advocacy groups evolve the way they reach voters. Convincing more traditional political media strategists to shift spend away from television can be a challenge; however, according to Forrester Research, U.S. advertisers’ spend on digital advertising will overtake TV in 2016 reaching $103 billion in 2019, which will represent 36 percent of all ad spending. This is a statistic worth paying attention to. It is important to note that media strategies relying heavily on TV ads can be enhanced using programmatic. By implementing newer products such as TV Sync, which uses technology to enable the amplification of TV advertising through digital data sets, political campaigns and advocacy groups are able to interact with voters across all technology touch points. For example, a competitor may broadcast an ad on TV, and in response, that candidate’s rival serves an ad on a viewer’s tablet just moments later.

The power of data

Data in digital is smart and works quickly. Targeting technology is ever-evolving in digital, offering greater insights into the way the average person responds to advertising. This granular data, when analyzed intelligently, provides marketers with valuable behavioral insights and informs the overall marketing strategy, beyond digital. These possibilities have increased the appetite for targeting that effectively engages voter file data and third-party information.

Working with the right Data Management Platform (DMP) is crucial to campaign success, especially when building off CRM data. Working with someone who knows your audiences and segments them properly can make the difference between effective performance and wasted dollars. Working with a partner who turns offline data into online data, for example, will add value to your campaigns.

From an accessibility standpoint, many digital efforts – including video and display ads shown to people nationwide – are more easily and quickly linked to a specific user profile than ads served through other mediums, allowing marketers to react in real time.

When it comes to social media – a valuable tool used in the last presidential election – if a voter has shared content related to a certain issue or candidate on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, or if they have downloaded a particular app, even deeper insights into this person, who remains unidentifiable by name, can be gleaned. Social and native advertising can also be purchased programmatically, linking your audience across channels.

Location, location, location

For political campaigns, granular targeting becomes even more essential. Focusing on specific geographical areas and tailoring creative messages to the important issues facing voters on both a national and local level in that region is key. Implementing a tight targeting radius (1-3 kilometers) around these areas provides political marketers the opportunity to reach and engage with the right audience, even when cookie data may not be available. This offers a unique opportunity to reach voters with a heightened interest in certain trending issues or individuals. Centralizing the geo-targeting to the major voting hubs to maximize presence will be a vital part of political programmatic offerings.

Creative matters more than ever

Creative still reigns king. Programmatic has improved the ability of marketers in the political arena to reach voters and gain insights around their behaviors, habits and interests, but this means creative needs to reflect this enhanced knowledge. Political marketers are able to serve unique creative messaging to voters in real time based on the issues they care about, rather than only focusing on media outlets or publications that have become traditionally important. By engaging with voters based on their lifestyles, engagement will improve because, when working with the right programmatic partner, you are reaching them in real time at a moment when they are most open to receiving your message.

Leading up to the 2016 elections, for political campaigns it will be about thinking across devices, using data effectively and smart, creative that learns. Programmatic can enhance political marketing strategies in digital and beyond. A voter can still receive a phone call from a campaign volunteer, mail from the party or group, see billboards and consume television ads, but adding a layer of “always on” messaging that speaks to the individual behind the ballot will add a powerful element of communication.


James Aitken, CEO and Co-founder of the Exchange Lab 

James helped build The Exchange Lab from a start-up in the UK in 2007 to an international player that now serves more than 700 clients across 50 markets worldwide. In his spare time, James is an active investor, husband, and father. Originally from Canada, James had a previous career in reforestation, an ongoing passion and he continues to spend as much time as possible at his cottage in northern Canada.


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