Primaries were pushed back this year due to the delayed census count. As a result, the usual lull between primaries and general elections is smaller, or nearly non-existent in some states, and the political advertising sector will see more consistent spend between now and November. The concentration in advertising will drive up rates on multiple channels, most notably on connected TV.
Political CTV ad spend is projected to hit $1.5 billion this year. CTV presents major opportunities for political advertisers, but pouring more money into the channel means the stakes are higher.
Three things campaigns should keep in mind as they turn up CTV spend are avoiding over-targeting, meeting the requirements that come with placing political ads in premium outlets, and hitting the high standards for TV creative. Here’s what delivering on each of those objectives entails.
Avoid over-targeting your voters.
Facing condensed timelines between primaries and general elections, political marketers must be strategic about audience targeting to get the most out of their ad spend. CTV offers much more precise targeting than traditional TV, but there’s no reason to over-target individuals with long track records of voting for the party of your candidate. It’s a waste to focus GOTV efforts only on people who are already delivering, and miss an opportunity to expand your electorate.
Ad spend can be put to better use reaching the less likely voter, who could actually turn the needle on efforts to increase turnout. So, instead of exclusively targeting voters who have cast a ballot in three or four of the last four elections, ensure a sizable chunk of ad spend is going toward those who voted once or twice. This is the political equivalent of ensuring ads drive incremental sales, not just repeat sales by loyalists.
CTV’s targeting capabilities allow advertisers to send less-frequent voters the messages they need to hear while reserving different creative for the party faithful. By targeting differentiated ads to people who voted in, say, a quarter of the last decade’s elections, political advertisers can focus on wedge issues that will turn out swing voters or mobilizing messages that resonate with young people who often sit out elections.
But with CTV’s audience targeting capabilities comes a cautionary tale: microtargeting can be a rabbithole. In general, the best practice for navigating this relatively new ad space involves applying some long-standing linear strategy to CTV to inform a holistic approach. Just as you want to target some loyalists and some newcomers, campaigns should mix broad linear messaging with microtargeting to achieve the best results.
Respect the rules of premium publishers.
The nature of political advertising lends itself to strict scrutiny, particularly when it comes to creative. As a tool for persuading the American public, political ads are held to high standards of accuracy and sensitivity. This is especially true among premium publishers, who are hesitant to run ads with inflammatory imagery or language.
For example, premium CTV publishers almost universally reject guns and profanity in ads. There is also some concern about creative being too negative, which some publishers could view as compromising their audiences’ viewing experience. Some have highly subjective policies such as that candidate ads “must not be overly aggressive or ‘put down’ opponents”. Premium CTV publishers made headlines recently when Disney-owned Hulu rejected all political advertising about abortion rights and gun control. The platform reversed its stance, but advertisers would do well to bear in mind this sensitivity.
These standards may also come with special review rules. Political ads often need to be provided to premium publishers for review 24-48 hours in advance of launch. Advertisers should work with this in mind, leaving time for feedback on both sides of that deadline and working to ensure the creative asset they deliver is as aligned with the platform’s guidelines as possible.
Make sure your creative matches the medium.
As CTV advertising explodes, campaigns should remember that content is king. Just because someone is watching streaming content doesn’t mean they expect anything less than the quality of content, even marketing content, that they’re used to seeing on linear television.
While some political advertisers might be tempted to repurpose vertical video from social media for CTV, they should resist the urge to cut corners. Audiences expect professional video on CTV, just as they would on traditional TV, and anything less risks rubbing them the wrong way. The shift to CTV should not incentivize campaigns to scale back on production. Rather, it’s an opportunity to stand out with creative messaging that speaks to the modern viewer, delivered at opportune times along their digital journey.
Grace Briscoe is SVP of Client Development at Basis Technologies where she leads specialized national client teams supporting Candidates + Causes and Publisher Solutions.