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7 political ad tactics every marketer should know

7 political ad tactics every marketer should know Andy Ellenthal

When it comes to exercising the advertising muscle of political campaigns, candidates have a new set of tactics at their disposal. This political season, campaigns are expected to spend a whopping $9.8 billion in political advertising. Beyond the increased campaign budgets, the advertising technologies fueling the campaigns have also evolved in the last four years for both TV and online advertising. Here's how:


Nothing could be more essential for political campaigns than the speed of the ad delivery. Candidate A says one thing, and candidate B responds. Advanced ad tech providers can guarantee delivery of political ad spots on TV within an hour, and a campaign can be online with that same video within hours of delivery of creative assets.

This is enormous progress from 2008, when half of all political ads in HD for TV were still delivered by tape rather than a server. Few networks had digital capability for ad deliveries in HD in those days, and the fastest option was delivery via courier (!). Today, 99 percent of political ads are transmitted digitally, using both satellite and internet. That means broadcast ads are able to reach audiences nationwide much, much faster.

The sharper image

If you think those candidates look sharper on TV this election season, that's because they are.  Today, political ad campaigns can be viewed through the sharpness of HD, as nearly half of political ads are delivered in HD quality, according to research by DG. In 2012, more than 80 percent of U.S. households have HD-compatible TVs, and virtually all national TV networks broadcast commercials in HD. That's a massive shift from 2008, when advertising in HD was at its infancy, with only 28 percent of households possessing HD-compatible TVs.

Less tune-away

Viewers of political ad campaigns aired in HD are less likely to "tune away" from the ad while watching TV (i.e. the time viewers do something other than watch a commercial), according to media research company Kantar Media. That means political ad campaigns in HD translate into more effective advertising and value against the overall ad spend.

Broad reach vs. targeted messaging

In 2008, the digital strategy for political campaigns focused on reaching a broad audience and with creative that encouraged interactivity from that audience. While the Obama '08 campaign had a sophisticated digital strategy, overall, campaigns steered away from targeting specific audience "profiles" and honed in on messages that would resonate across demographics.

In contrast, campaigns in the 2012 political season are able to break down campaign messages aimed at very specific target groups. So, if it sounds like candidates are actually speaking to you, well, they are. For example, today, a 22-year-old environmental activist living in a city will get a very different message from a candidate than a 50-something soccer mom in the suburbs. And the frequency of the message is increased to an optimal level, thanks to specific demographic analytics.

Protecting the campaign message

Protecting the integrity of a political campaign is vital. In 2008, candidates were forced to buy big; pouring budgets into ad networks and demand-side platforms and then hoping for the best.  Today, online campaigns can target toward relevant topics -- or target away from issues that would be detrimental. For example, a candidate could choose to associate each ad with a particular topic, such as education, health care, or the environment. Alternatively, they can make sure their ads stay away from scandals, mature or objectionable topics, or accidents. Savvy political operators have the tools to decide when their candidate's ads should steer clear.

Advanced semantics brings precision

As semantic technology has advanced and improved over the last four years, ad technology has much greater precision to meet the standards required to run ads effectively online, even for the most politically sensitive candidate. As the meaning of certain words changes based on current events and hot topics, today's technology can determine the accurate context of the page before assigning a set of attributes to it. For example, in the past year, these words have taken on new meanings after major events or emerging topics:

  • Joplin > Arts and Entertainment; Joplin > Town in Missouri ravaged by tornadoes.

  • Mineral > Health and Beauty; Mineral > Town in Virginia where an earthquake started.

  • Mitt > Sports > Baseball; Mitt > Politics

This new level of accuracy in context means the ad placement is smarter.

Changes in ad units, formats, and lengths

Four years ago was the dawn of the Presidential "infomercial," first used by the Obama campaign to leverage a platform that encouraged viewers to lean back and learn about the issues while getting comfortable with the candidate and his family in a tightly packaged 30-minute chunk. Since then, the industry has learned a lot about the stickiness and effectiveness of different ad formats, lengths, and units. 

Using Return Path Data from set-top boxes, we at DG have seen that TV content in HD retains audiences on average 30 percent more than standard definition (SD); and online units have been updated with targeted in-banner and in-stream video with social hooks. As video continues its feverish momentum in the ad landscape, click rates for ads with video have increased -- in fact, people are more than 20 times more likely to click on an in-stream video ad than on video-less banner ads.

With the emergence of new technologies, every campaign cycle brings some form of innovation. From the moment FDR took to the radio to assuage a fearful nation, to Jack Kennedy's telegenic victory over Nixon, to Obama's infomercials and tweets, no politician can afford to ignore the latest tactics to get their messages out. Today, ad technologies provide political campaigns the tools they need to best reach their specific targets affordably, effectively, and accurately. We are already looking forward to 2016.

Andy Ellenthal is the executive vice president, global sales and operations for DG.

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"Reaching images streaming" image via Shutterstock.

Andy Ellenthal is DG’s Executive Vice President of Sales and Ad Operations for both the TV and DG’s online division, MediaMind. Andy comes to DG with extensive management experience in advertising technology companies, including key...

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