It’s become something of a cliché that at some point in their twenties, it occurs to every group of friends that they should absolutely, certainly open a bar. After all, they go to bars all the time. They’d be great at it, right?
Years ago, when I was working in the service industry, my coworkers and I would often have a chuckle over this misguided trope. Running a successful restaurant is risky and complicated. What looks simple from the outside — good beer, cool atmosphere, happy hour specials — is actually the result of elaborate analysis, flawless execution and constant fine-tuning.
The same is true of digital media. As campaigns, committees, super PACs and others come around to the idea that digital marketing isn’t just for teenagers, everyone from TV firms to mail shops to that guy you went to high school with are coming out of the woodwork to assert that they can absolutely, certainly get your message out online. They’d be great at it, right?
Here’s the thing: Like running a successful restaurant, using digital platforms to influence and motivate voters is a complicated endeavor. And like most complicated endeavors, it should be handled by an expert.
There’s a notion that’s gained traction in progressive circles that digital ad buying should be done on the cheap: in-house, or by your TV firm, or maybe through an independent contractor. But if we want to win in 2018, Democrats need to come around to what our Republican counterparts — and corporate America — know already: Digital media is a must-have. And to do it right you need to work with somebody who knows it inside and out. Why? Well, I’m glad you asked.
First, not all digital impressions are created equal. Skippability, viewability, user initiation/auto-play and brand safety all must be considered when evaluating digital inventory, and the cheapest impression often isn’t the most effective choice.
Then there the planning and placement to consider. There’s a lot more to digital media planning than “like TV, but on the internet.” While TV campaigns are typically targeted by media market, digital plans are targeted based on factors like individual vote history and partisanship, demographic data, digital contactability scores and internet usage rates, custom models, the proportion of targets by individual ZIP code and so on.
Digital impressions aren’t guaranteed, and unused impressions are worthless after Election Day. That means campaigns need to be monitored and adjusted by experienced digital teams in real time to ensure inventory quality, even pacing and complete delivery.
For digital creative to be effective, it has to be tailored to the platform — and what works best on Facebook, YouTube, Hulu, Snapchat, connected TVs, six-second bumpers and pre-roll video is changing by the day. Media buyers who don’t have experience running sophisticated digital campaigns aren’t able to match message to medium the way seasoned digital strategists can.
In the past couple cycles, Democrats have fallen behind the GOP on the adoption and execution of robust digital media buys — and it has cost us dearly. Last year was when digital ad spend finally beat TV, according to Magna, the research arm of media buying firm IPG Mediabrands. Let’s make 2018 the year that Democrats build the aggressive, nuanced, forward-thinking campaigns we need to win up and down the ballot.
Stephanie Grasmick is a partner at Rising Tide Interactive, a digital marketing agency.