The political digital world is up in arms over Google’s newly announced changes to the ways the world’s most powerful advertising network will let political advertisers target messages. But whether or not Google’s targeting changes are good or fair, what do they mean for the way we’re going to run election ads this cycle?
Now, it’s too early to know for sure what the full impact of all these changes will be. But these are the three most important implications we see right now:
Balanced targeting approaches are now even more important.
We’ve always advised clients to avoid over-relying on voter-file matching, and that’s even more important now that so much matchable inventory is going away. Lookalike targeting and third-party audience targeting as part of broad, multi-channel media plans will become more important moving forward, but the difference should be one of degree for anyone using balanced media plans, not type.
It’s more important than ever to find creative that really works.
Truly effective content grounded in psychology, linguistics, and iterative optimization will move target voters while minimizing backlash among potentially hostile voters. Without being able to rely on microtargeting to find audiences receptive to your messaging, it will become more important to find messaging that moves the audiences you’re reaching.
YouTube may play a less prominent role in future media plans.
YouTube’s reach and pricing for unskippable video remain competitive compared to other premium publishers and its video optimization capabilities mean it will remain an attractive option for persuasion, mobilization, brand-building, and list building. But with only the more basic targeting functionality available to political advertisers, it won’t make sense for media plans to rely as heavily on YouTube anymore.
Meanwhile, we’ve identified three main takeaways from the announcement itself:
Voter file-matched targeting is going away on Google.
It will survive on some programmatic networks (at least for a couple more years) and Facebook — at least for now, but Google’s own native and programmatic offerings were a big chunk of previously available matchable inventory. This is a major blow to media strategies that relied disproportionately on matching, no doubt.
Affinity targeting and remarketing are also going away.
Affinity targeting isn’t something many political advertisers have used extensively in the past since it’s so oriented toward commercial advertising needs. But it always provided a handy way to help weed hardcore Republicans out of Democratic programs and the like.
Remarketing could also be useful in certain situations, but most campaigns below the statewide level would have had trouble building up a big enough audience to get much use out of it anyway.
Other important capabilities aren’t going anywhere for now.
Age, gender, geo, placement, topic, and contextual targeting options are still available to political advertisers, and these are important tools that have always formed the foundation of our media plans for clients. Other important tools, such as Brand Lift for measurement, also aren’t going anywhere.
All in all, Google’s targeting changes are shaping up to require some adjustments for many political advertisers. But those adjustments aren’t shaping up to be a death sentence for digital ads or Democrats’ ability to compete.
Brian O’Grady is a principal at Clarify Agency, a full-service Democratic digital firm. He specializes in digital advertising as well as messaging and media planning.