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Political advertisers are spending more on digital media, but they have yet to embrace the largest emerging and tier-two online ad platforms, such as Snapchat, Pinterest and TikTok.
Candidates and political operatives are committed to Google and Facebook, and they use Twitter for news and communications, said DJ Koessler, former surrogates digital director for Pete Buttigieg’s primary campaign.
But a third of the electorate is 35 years old or younger, he said. “So what is your team doing to meet those voters where they are?”
Snapchat, in particular, promises reach and exposure opportunities for candidates.
Consider a political debate. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are important for paid and organic campaigns, but it’s “hard to break through those algorithm bubbles” to reach new audiences, said Stefan Smith, Buttigieg’s former online engagement director.
Snapchat, on the other hand, listed every candidate account on its media hub front page during primary debates, so they could reach millions of users who may not be accessible or follow debates, Smith said. In comparison, a candidate would need to purchase the YouTube masthead to reach everyone visiting on debate night. And Facebook would be impossible, because it restricts political content to what’s shared by friends and family.
Some candidates may not be a natural fit for Snapchat or TikTok, but it’s still important to get their message out onto those platforms, Koessler said. Campaigns can tap influencers, surrogates and even younger staffers or family members to make the case to voters in an authentic way, he said.
Many Democratic campaigns are banking on high turnout among college-educated and suburban women, who helped propel a liberal surge in the 2018 midterm election, he said.
Campaigns, however, aren’t on Pinterest yet. They use Facebook, Instagram Live and YouTube for live cooking and home improvement projects during quarantine – activities that would be a natural fit for sourcing ideas on Pinterest, Smith said.
Twitch, Amazon’s video game-streaming platform, is hardly endemic for politics. But when Bernie Sanders did a live interview with a popular gamer last month it was the No. 1 stream at the time.
The Buttigieg campaign didn’t use TikTok due to data security concerns, but political media operatives should familiarize themselves with the video-sharing app to understand how to communicate with tomorrow’s 18- to 24-year-olds, Koessler said.
“In a cycle or two, I think it likely will be a default platform that every campaign has a plan for,” he said.
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A New Breed Of Digital Directors In Politics
No one knows the evolution of political digital directors better than Matt Campbell, digital director of the House Majority PAC, the Democratic Party’s super PAC focused on House races.
In 2014, Campbell was digital director for Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and deputy director for Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who won reelection. He moved to Colorado to be digital director for Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who was also reelected.
Now Campbell oversees digital persuasion, get-out-the-vote and fundraising efforts across scores of campaigns, as the Democratic Party defends its first House majority since 2010.
AdExchanger: How has the digital director role changed in politics?
MATT CAMPBELL: The role has changed a lot. When I was digital director on a Senate race in 2016, it was in the traditional mold where campaigns looked for generalists who could make a graphic, throw together a microsite for donations, write emails, oversee a media consultant and plan an ad campaign. Now those roles have become specialized, often overseen by a digital director.
In my current position, I’ve been brought into conversations earlier than I ever have in my career. Digital is part of planning. [For] every discussion of reserving TV, for instance, I’m in the room and agencies on my side are in the room with me. That means when we’re booking TV, there’s an understanding from the start of how that’s going to be complemented online.
How do you balance placing reserved buys with the flexibility to change budgets in real time?
We make reservations with the plan to be ready and able to use that media, while able to adjust as needed.
Between now and Labor Day, a lot will change in the world, the economy and the political landscape. Anyone who says, “I know what’s going to happen and this is the best plan,” I’d say that person doesn’t know what they’re talking about and shouldn’t be in this business.
How would you like to see digital advertising improve?
As targeting gets better, I think there are ways to build smarter media plans around behaviors, like if someone reads certain articles or signs up for an email list. Targeting behaviors like that is a way to be effective and targeted without necessarily being focused on one-to-one. [Google and Facebook changed their ad policies so political advertisers can no longer target individuals.]
I think that’s a promising potential way to build media plans for getting the most premium, reservable, non-skippable inventory.
Political advertisers seem focused on non-skippable inventory, much more so than brands.
Every organization has an analysis with its agencies to determine at what point it makes sense to buy skippable vs. non-skippable.
I wouldn’t throw my entire budget at non-skippable inventory, because that limits your audience pool. It is important for political advertisers, though.
Even overtly political people don’t want to watch political ads. A movie trailer is very watchable. And a brand like Geico does a good job of making ads where people aren’t in market but they watch until the end.
That’s not the case in politics.
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• As Democrats turn to the general election, the Republican money machine only looks more formidable. President Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) raised $63 million in March and $86 million in February. They collectively have $240 million on hand.
The Biden campaign, which raised $30 million in March, and the Democratic National Committee had $20 million combined cash available at the end of February.
• The Bloomberg-backed digital agency Hawkfish isn’t slowing down, despite Michael Bloomberg leaving the race.
Hawkfish wants to be the go-to data-driven advertising hub for liberal politics. It is reportedly reaching out to the Biden campaign and House Majority PAC. Since Bloomberg subsidizes the agency at a loss, it can offer high-paid experts and services at extraordinarily low rates.
But Hawkfish’s growth exposes a growing fault line between Democratic political operators who know campaigns and Silicon Valley players who argue they have the tech chops and funding to do it better.
this all ties back to the problem that's plaguing our party, and specifically the digital space. donors from silicon valley (or wherever) look at the dem party and are like "wow these people suck at digital, i know a few agencies that do great work"
— shelby cole (@shelbylcole) April 10, 2020
Many 2020 elections including the presidential will be won or lost depending on their digital programs. Good digital talent and experience is worth paying for. https://t.co/CCKik6OC4G
— Megan Clasen (@MeganClasen) April 10, 2020