On­line cam­paign ads may prove the de­ci­sive bat­tle­ground

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY JAC­QUE­LINE KLIMAS

From YouTube to Vine, po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns are test­ing the bound­aries of on­line mes­sag­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing — but they are still far more timid than other in­dus­tries in har­ness­ing the In­ter­net’s po­ten­tial to reach vot­ers or cus­tomers.

Some in­sur­gent can­di­dates are ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties as they seek to over­come ma­jor fi­nan­cial ad­van­tages held by long­time in­cum­bents, but most can­di­dates pre­fer to play it safe, stick­ing to tried-andtrue ways to reach vot­ers, said Zac Mof­fatt, co-founder of Tar­geted Vic­tory, an au­di­ence-driven tech­nol­ogy company that helps con­ser­va­tive can­di­dates and causes.

“We have this very fi­nite pe­riod in [the] last 100 days where peo­ple want to make sure as many peo­ple see the mes­sage as much as pos­si­ble, and broad­cast has a his­tory of 30 to 40 years that it will move num­bers,” he said. “The prob­lem is no one knows how to jus­tify what’s the ap­pro­pri­ate me­dia mix to win.” The num­bers are stark. Cam­paigns are ex­pected to spend only about 3 per­cent of their ad­ver­tis­ing dol­lars on on­line ads this year, ac­cord­ing to Bor­rell As­so­ciates, a me­dia anal­y­sis company. That’s just a frac­tion of the 19 per­cent of ad bud­gets that other in­dus­tries will ded­i­cate to on­line ads, ac­cord­ing to Joline McGoldrick, di­rec­tor of re­search at Mill­ward Brown Dig­i­tal.

An­a­lysts said there are plenty of rea­sons for the dif­fer­ence, in­clud­ing a lack of po­lit­i­cally ori­ented on­line ad peo­ple and the dif­fer­ent mis­sion that po­lit­i­cal ads cater to com­pared to what most com­pa­nies are do­ing. In pol­i­tics, tele­vi­sion is seen as a way to reach un­de­cided vot­ers, while the In­ter­net is viewed as a tool to en­cour­age al­ready com­mit­ted sup­port­ers to get more in­volved.

How­ever, Mr. Mof­fatt, who served as the dig­i­tal di­rec­tor for Mitt Rom­ney’s 2012 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, said that con­tin­u­ing to invest more heav­ily in TV makes it a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy that TV gets greater re­sults.

“I don’t agree dig­i­tal [ads] can’t make a dif­fer­ence, be­cause peo­ple aren’t watch­ing live tele­vi­sion,” he said. “But if you spend $1 mil­lion on TV and $10,000 on on­line [ads], of course TV worked more.”

Part of the dan­ger for cam­paigns and oth­ers who rely on broad­cast ads is that their au­di­ence is in­creas­ingly avoid­ing com­mer­cials.

A re­port from Jan­uary found that 1 in 3 peo­ple didn’t watch live TV over the pre­vi­ous week other than sports. The study, spon­sored by Google, Tar­geted Vic­tory and the left-lean­ing dig­i­tal me­dia con­sult­ing group Well & Light­house, also found that more than half of those who use pre­re­corded TV ser­vices like TiVo or DVR skip the com­mer­cials all the time.

One dif­fi­culty cam­paign ad­ver­tis­ers face is that on­line au­di­ences re­quire a dif­fer­ent ap­proach.

Ms. McGoldrick said politi­cians will need to de­sign web-only con­tent, not just re­pur­pose TV spots for YouTube.

She said the In­ter­net lends it­self to longer, 90-sec­ond videos that those who al­ready support the can­di­date will sit through, or short 10-sec­ond hits to keep up name recog­ni­tion.

Ms. McGoldrick also said cam­paigns may be spend­ing less on dig­i­tal cam­paign­ing be­cause those who are good at it tend not to be the kinds of po­lit­i­cal or ide­o­log­i­cal types that get in­volved in cam­paigns.

“It seems to­tally tal­ent- and com­fort­driven. Only a small num­ber of pro­fes­sion­als ac­tu­ally know how to do that type of stuff,” she said.

Even at just 3 per­cent of ad spend­ing, on­line buys are much higher this year than they were in the 2012 cam­paigns. And an­a­lysts ex­pect another big boost head­ing into the 2016 cam­paign cy­cle.

On­line cam­paign spend­ing is ex­pected to reach almost $1 bil­lion, or 7.7 per­cent of to­tal ad spend­ing, in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the Bor­rell re­port.

In ad­di­tion to in­creas­ing spend­ing for on­line ads, can­di­dates are also get­ting in­volved in on­line cam­paign­ing ear­lier in the process, said Stephanie Gras­mick, a part­ner at Ris­ing Tide In­ter­ac­tive, which does dig­i­tal work for Ready for Hil­lary.

“We’ve seen cam­paigns re­ally get­ting started with it a lot ear­lier in the cy­cle,” she said. “It used to be it was tough to get th­ese folks’ at­ten­tion with two or three months left in the cam­paign. Now we’re work­ing with peo­ple 24 months be­fore.”

Gor­don Bor­rell, CEO of Bor­rell As­so­ciates, said David Brat’s up­set win in a GOP pri­mary ear­lier this year over for­mer House Majority Leader Eric Can­tor with a much smaller bud­get may have caused a “minirev­o­lu­tion” in po­lit­i­cal spend­ing, en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers to look into more grass-roots ad­ver­tis­ing on the In­ter­net.

“That re­ally did rivet peo­ple’s at­ten­tion when Eric Can­tor got knocked out after hav­ing spent a mil­lion or more in ad­ver­tis­ing, and his com­peti­tor hardly spent any­thing,” he said. “That re­ally shook peo­ple into be­liev­ing they need to put a lit­tle more time and ef­fort into the great­est com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nel of all, which is the In­ter­net.”

As con­sumers be­come in­creas­ingly com­fort­able with get­ting news and in­for­ma­tion from on­line sources, Mr. Bor­rell said he ex­pects cam­paigns to embrace us­ing on­line ads to reach un­de­cided vot­ers.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

David Brat’s up­set win in a GOP pri­mary ear­lier this year over for­mer House Majority Leader Eric Can­tor with a much smaller bud­get may have caused a “minirev­o­lu­tion” in po­lit­i­cal spend­ing, en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers to look into more grass-roots ad­ver­tis­ing on the In­ter­net.

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