Voters Will See Fewer Political Ads This Year – Thanks To OTT Targeting

People who live in cities like Boston or Chicago will probably see fewer campaign ads for the 2020 election compared to 2016.

They can thank the rise of data-driven advertising for that small respite, as campaign ads shift from broad TV markets to targeted OTT and streaming video.

Presidential candidates have historically inundated Boston and Chicago TV markets because they overlap with early primary states. Chicago reaches into eastern Iowa and the Boston DMA (the Nielsen metric for a TV market) covers much of New Hampshire.

It’s a familiar issue at the state level too. In 2018, heated New Jersey Senate and congressional races pumped about $95 million into the New York City DMA, aggravating New Yorkers who couldn’t escape mudslinging commercials from across the Hudson River.

And for campaigns, it’s a painful trade-off when you need to reach potential voters with video messages but know you’re needlessly wasting hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.

“Some candidates can afford to do large campaigns that reach broad swaths of voters,” said Ashley O’Rourke, director of analytics and audience insights at the conservative advertising firm Majority Strategies. “But most campaigns have very finite resources.”

Going DTC, not DMA

OTT devices present one way to slip below the DMA level to target by state or ZIP code. Set-top box data companies have been making the same case for more than a decade, said Tim Kay, VP of political strategy at Ampersand (formerly NCC Media). And he’d know, having led political sales for the TV ad-targeting company since 2006.

Ampersand, a joint venture backed by Comcast, Charter and Cox, gets set-top box data from its parent companies. The collaboration allows it to help Democratic candidates, the major TV ad spenders this year, parse out New Hampshire zones within the Boston DMA for the local TV inventory it manages, Kay said.

It’s been a long road, he said, but since the 2016 election cycle more and more political candidates prioritize addressability alongside reach.

Don’t get too excited

The acceleration of OTT and advanced TV advertising doesn’t mark the end of unwanted political TV commercials – and unfortunately, people will see their fair share of insufferable election ads.

Digital media, including OTT and streaming video, is still the minority of political advertising. Broadcast and cable TV are expected to get $4.4 billion from political campaigns in 2019 and 2020, while digital takes $1.2 billion, 20% of all paid media budgets, according to a Kantar forecast published in September.

But the political media mix could shift dramatically based on a candidate’s natural constituency or how much a campaign budgets for paid media, O’Rourke said.

Joe Biden’s presidential primary campaign drastically scaled back its digital investments in September and shifted more to traditional media; But the campaign is also deliberately targeting people older than 50 (who are more likely primary voters).

Just as the Bernie Sanders primary campaign in 2015-2016 spent four times more of its media budget on digital than the Clinton team – 24% and 6%, respectively – the media mix this cycle will swing based on whichever candidate wins the primary.

There is still plenty of cash in the DMA-based, spray-and-pray style of TV advertising, as the Tom Steyer or Biden campaigns show, not to mention the fortunes dropped into local TV by conservative super PACs. Campaigns looking for reach and lower video CPMs are still going to go with, say, Boston TV, instead of New Hampshire OTT.

“Next year might be a little more tolerable if you live in Boston,” joked Grace Briscoe, Centro’s VP of candidates and causes. “But you’re still going to see a lot of ads in that DMA. There is a shift happening, but it’s not there yet.”

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