More consumers are cutting the cord and over-the-top (OTT) video is experiencing rapid growth. At the same time, political campaigns are facing pressure to adapt to one of the most truncated election calendars in history as COVID-19 has changed the rhythm of the campaign cycle. As a result, political advertisers are recognizing that tactics previously successful in 2016 will not cut it this year.
With the rise of cord-cutters, cord-shavers, and cord-nevers in recent years, OTT has become an essential platform for political campaigns as it offers an opportunity to reach audiences that are increasingly difficult to target through linear TV advertising alone. COVID-19 has drastically impacted connected TV (CTV) streaming consumption, as Nielsen reports that the total hours spent on CTV devices in March 2020 was up 81% year-over-year.
With campaigns backing away from political events due to new COVID-19 cases surging across the country, it’s now more important than ever to capture audiences’ attention at home. With fewer rallies, town halls, or door-to-door knocks, campaigns need to adapt to reach homebound voters. As voters move away from linear TV, with over 97 million US homes opting for OTT in 2019, political advertisers must reach video audiences in OTT settings.
It is also becoming increasingly clear that campaigns cannot rely solely on social media platforms to reach voters. Social media has been accused of misusing data and spreading false information within political ads, and influencing the 2016 US presidential election. In response, high-powered social media sites, including Facebook, are introducing new measures to allow users to opt out of political advertising. While social platforms will continue to be important, more advertisers are hesitant to use social for their campaigns.
As they move away from heavy spending on social media and evaluate different strategies, political advertisers are realizing the impact that OTT can have on their campaigns and becoming more aware of the necessity to add a strategic mix of media that includes linear TV advertising, digital advertising, and OTT video advertising into their campaign initiatives.
The only question that remains is: how can advertisers plan their media buying strategies to effectively integrate their linear TV, digital, and OTT initiatives while running brand-safe and effective campaigns?
Engage with voters
Many media companies are experimenting with interactive ads to engage with viewers and ask them to take follow-up action. Political advertisers can also get closer to their conversion goals with targeted direct-to-voter pitches. By integrating OTT into their media mixes, advertisers can tailor campaigns to specific voting districts, municipal boundaries, and congressional districts to reach voters. Whether a campaign is trying to get constituents out to vote, fundraise, increase name recognition, or influence down-ballot local elections, OTT is an effective way to reach the right person, at the right time, through the right device and direct them to further action.
Outside of email, political ads are placed on display, social media, or online video to direct audiences to fundraising initiatives. Political persuasion has relied on first-party targeting for years to do this. The new data and targeting capabilities of OTT will advance targeting, as there is a demand for quick turnaround and accurate first-party data matching. Political advertisers can benefit from advanced OTT targeting capabilities to give viewers a simple way to engage and take action on their fundraising initiatives.
OTT also offers political advertisers significant flexibility in terms of timing and budgetary constraints. Until recently, campaigns had few options on where to spend last-minute donations. Linear TV deadlines prevent campaigns from placing last-minute spots and print advertising doesn’t afford significant reach to audiences. OTT, however, can provide political advertisers with the ability to reach audiences at scale after linear TV spots have sold out. Similarly, disseminating video across the internet and social media dominates how campaigns position urgent messaging quickly and effectively. However, utilizing calls to action for viewers to learn more off-platform and address real-time news stories about candidates, hot button issues, or quick responses are strong fits for OTT as well.
In races with limited resources and little press coverage, the inherent ability to target online outreach at low cost can help stretch a tight budget. OTT ads can be targeted demographically and geographically, allowing campaigns to hit the right voters cost-effectively. If a campaign is interested in implementing get-out-the-vote (GOTV) ads, OTT can be used to grab targeted viewers’ attention then lead them off-platform for personalized information on their voting dates, hours, polling stations, and other tips for Election Day.
OTT can also help advertisers and candidates align their impressions with key micro demographics efficiently and in a way that helps to balance out voter engagement across the entirety of a campaign’s media mix. Broadcast tends to be prohibitively expensive to target A18-34 viewer demographics, despite the fact that linear prices are not static. If advertisers are trying to reach a younger demographic of voters, leveraging an OTT budget can help to cost-effectively engage with these audiences. The key is to understand your targeting options and choose the appropriate groups to reach with effective messages through the right channels.
Target audiences through OTT
Campaigns can reach voters’ set-top boxes, mobile devices, smart TVs, and computers to target the same voters across the entirety of their real-life, multi-screen day. How this is accomplished depends on a campaign’s individual strategy, data, and priorities, but should include a holistic, cross-channel communication approach to outreach.
Messaging and topics can be targeted to the same audience segments you reach on social media, across the web, or even your email lists depending on your data capabilities and options. Social media campaigns can link content and topics from their posts to video, then that same content can be reconstructed to reach that same audience across OTT, by syncing similar audience segments to reinforce the message.
The same concepts and ideas found in a campaign’s linear TV messaging can be reworked to reach an audience across OTT channels. The revised content can then be matched to the linear TV campaign through geotargeting over designated market areas (DMAs), or through targeting content and context similar to a particular channel’s inferred viewers or dayparting.
Campaigns should employ a wide array of digital targeting techniques to reach defined groups of voters across all their screens for maximum ROI. Voters can be targeted via complex data models using first- or third-party data and audience segments to reach specific households with messages designed just for them. Campaigns have to create content designed to speak to their target demographic specifically, and they can deliver a variety of messages in different formats tailored for the intended audiences.
Focus on inventory quality in CTV
CTV is a new and exciting arena for digital advertisers, and it will continue to evolve as new technologies arise. However, political advertisers should be mindful of quality issues in CTV and how they differ from desktop and mobile environments, which impact key advertiser needs such as ad verification and inventory quality.
Political advertisers should monitor impression quality and invalid traffic, as well as apps infringing on copyrighted material or posting unsafe content, and look out for red flags such as obscure apps sending high impression volumes with low CPMs. Be aware of the potential for device and app spoofing, un-authorized inventory, upticks in non-human traffic, and ghost apps.
Similarly, political advertisers should cut out resellers. Only accessing CTV directly from media owners, distributors, and device manufacturers drastically reduces the chances of any quality-related issues.
By focusing on these issues while deploying a CTV and OTT strategy, political advertisers can stay agile in how they adjust messaging throughout the campaign season and ensure they are amplifying their linear and digital messaging strategies effectively.
Allan Welch is Director, Political and Government Affairs at SpotX. With over 15 years of experience in both business and political campaign roles, Allan builds strong relationships with digital agencies and campaigns on both sides of the political aisle, leveraging the specific needs of his clients to create winning strategies for winning cycles. Prior to joining SpotX, Allan led political online advertising efforts at Yahoo and Mother Jones in Washington, DC for the 2012 and 2016 election cycles.