As the 2012 election cycle approaches its peak of activity across all campaign levels and as the market for election advertising is estimated to top $10 billion, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) released timely findings from the “Elections 2012 and Political Ad Spend Survey,” conducted in collaboration with Campaigns & Elections Magazine. The results show an increase in political ad spending across digital platforms, while also revealing political consultants’ appetite for more precise measurement and analytics tools. In tandem, the IAB Data Council unveiled an in-depth whitepaper entitled “Election 2012: Big Data Delivers on Campaign Promise,” which demonstrates that highly effective microtargeting is playing an increasingly vital role within political campaigning.
Both of these IAB research materials come at a time when observers of campaigns and elections see an inflection point for the need for digital innovation in political campaigns and digital innovation. The explosion of digital tools, platforms, mobile and apps – and the concurrent rising tide of political ad spending – have joined forces to reshape and remap how elections are conducted.
“There is no question that digital media is influencing the political process,” said Mike Zaneis, SVP, Public Policy and General Counsel, IAB. “These groundbreaking reports demonstrate how candidates and voters alike are able to leverage the platforms to create and communicate messages while providing robust feedback to key constituencies. Digital media is making our democratic process more accessible, informative and engaging.”
Elections 2012 and Political Ad Spend Survey
For the “Elections 2012 Political Ad Strategy and Spend Survey,” IAB and Campaigns & Elections Magazine canvassed leading political strategists and consultants about their use of digital media tools and channels to disseminate campaign messaging and advocating for candidates and causes. The survey also queried them about digital effectiveness as well as future trends in digital campaigning.
Respondents who were involved in a similar capacity in any 2008 campaign said that they are spending more on digital media in this cycle. When specifically asked about the attributes and effectiveness of their digital advertising strategy for political campaigns, the surveyed group stated that the most beneficial attributes of digital advertising are its targeting capabilities; immediacy of response to negative attacks, and the ability to have a conversation with voters through social media.
Unsurprisingly, digital political campaign “return-on-investment” factors prominently in the survey, mirroring a common theme among major brands in the mainstream digital advertising marketplace. When asked what political strategists would most like to change about digital electioneering that would increase political campaign spend online, respondents said they were seeking more accurate measurement and analytics that prove digital advertising brings results and reach.
Other elements on the digital “wish list” of surveyed campaign strategists include: a desire for more customization; more data from cable companies in conjunction with the ability to buy specific programming; and strategists’ desire to do more in the digital earned and unearned media space beyond social media.
All participants noted they are spending more on social media in 2012 compared with 2008, while several noted a decline in ad spending on search marketing
All strategists polled are currently using microtargeting in their portfolio of campaign tactics
All respondents set different goals for digital media than they do for traditional media, with traditional media fulfilling most of their goals and digital media being deployed for supplemental goals – such as issue advocacy
The IAB survey also asked participants to make predictions about what the next election cycle will bring in terms of digital campaign trends. Key themes included:
Increased digital targeting, including web TV and mobile
Ability to reach an older demographic of voters (40- and 50-year old) beyond the younger demographic that dominates the digital marketplace currently
Campaigning that will become more collegial, democratic and interactive
The allocation of campaign resources between online ad spending and traditional media (TV) will become more challenging, as television’s impact declines while the full reach of digital will still fall short due to older audiences that are less connected online
”The IAB survey shows that national political consultants are developing broader media portfolios to channel messages to voters in more effective ways,” said Sherrill Mane, Senior Vice President, Research, Analytics and Measurement, IAB. “Their assumptions are that digital media serve extremely important message delivery goals and that digital media need to prove their efficacy.”
Election 2012: Big Data Delivers on Campaign Promise
Separately, the IAB Data Council also examined the role of interactive digital tools in today’s campaigns and elections by commissioning a whitepaper, entitled “Election 2012: Big Data Delivers on Campaign Promise,” authored by Nathan Abse, a writer and journalist who covers politics and is currently a senior correspondent for 1105 Media.
Key findings from the IAB whitepaper include:
Microtargeting has become the predominant means of delivering political messages online
Microtargeted political ads are growing in use as a tool among campaigns and outside groups, political consultancies, as well as public relations firms – all of which coordinate and direct political ad buy
Microtargeted political ads are being used at all key points in political campaigns – to recruit and raise money, to persuade undecided voters and to get out the vote. They make use of online and offline data to find appropriate audiences, and create constantly adjusted models to further refine their focus
Microtargeted messages are part of a new norm of buying qualified audiences, not qualified websites
Microtargeting online and TV often address different needs, but TV is sometimes is preferred to online in part due to a perception that online ad buys are more complicated
Microtargeting firms must continue to be aware of and address privacy concerns
Specifically, the research points to the increasing use of microtargeting in campaign recruiting and fundraising, persuasion and get-out-the-vote efforts.
The paper attributes the rapid rise of cross-platform microtargeted political ads in campaigns and elections to several factors:
A polarized electorate resulting in the need to capture a hard-to-reach and dwindling “undecided” electorate in key, swing battleground states
A virtual explosion since 2008 in advanced technology and digital tools that allow for greater reach at lower costs compared with traditional media channels, such as TV
Unlimited campaign ad spending following the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in “Citizens United v. FEC”
“It’s clear from our whitepaper that microtargeting is positioned to accomplish in elections what traditional media can’t fully deliver, filling a vital gap for candidates and more fully serving the direct needs and interests of voters,” said Patrick Dolan, Executive Vice President and COO, IAB. “The 2012 cycle could be the tipping point for more accurate and efficient online political targeting, reach and results, thanks to dexterous digital tools and platforms.”
“Election 2012: Big Data Delivers on Campaign Promise” is the result of in-depth interviews with more than 15 leading digital political advertisers and consultants involved directly in microtargeting, as well as data brokers, political scientists, journalists and other subject experts.
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