Analog consultants from across the country have been circling their wagons in the wake of the 2016 elections. Now, the latest way to bolster their long-standing argument that traditional advertising is still superior to digital is Jordan Lieberman’s well-done critique of Borrell Associates’ recent political advertising report.
That’s a mistake. Lieberman is right in most respects, and he should be congratulated for eloquently saying what’s been obvious for a while: The stats used for measuring online and digital political activity are woefully inadequate.
But that doesn’t mean approximate measurement isn’t a useful and necessary benchmark. In fact, even the Borrell report, which is the definition of market analysis, makes note of how this presidential cycle proved that digital has gained prominence over traditional advertising methods. No longer do campaigns need to go point for point with their opponent.
So what’s all the fuss about Borrell’s numbers? Some of the dissonance between stats Lieberman cites and Borrell’s take is methodology. Google has many points of sale for its diverse products. AdX can be accessed via demand-side platforms (DSPs) or politically focused resellers.
DoubleClick Bid Manager, a buying platform available through the DoubleClick Campaign Manager ad server, is another. DBM also lets you buy search. And then there’s YouTube, bought directly from Google.
That’s four sales channels and they don’t all involve Google’s political ad sales team. Almost all are resold by the varying vendors, who in turn complain about poor returns. That’s one method Borrell used to generate its numbers, and it skips past sales guy chatter and goes straight to the bottom line.
But here’s where Lieberman is exactly right: The analog consultants’ urge to dismiss everything having to do with a portable screen as “digital” is as out of date as an aol email address. President-elect Donald Trump’s earned social campaign on Twitter and the traditional earned media it generated aren’t the same as what firms like mine do with a managed direct buy campaign with rich media interstitials targeted at a specific demographic or geographic audience. Still, consultants will put the cost of building a webpage and managing a Twitter account under the same digital banner along with a media buy done by a firm like mine.
Parsing out the difference between a tablet-supported field effort and a search ad buy — yet another example of digital clumping — will give us a more accurate picture of the market. It needs to happen — even Borrell can agree.
Why? Well, for starters, to keep analog consultants from pushing their heads deeper into the sand. Solid market research will also encourage investment in politically oriented firms and help us all do better forecasting and projecting. That grows everyone’s business.
The online political advertising market has a lot of challenges, but dismissing market forecasting as impossible, and worth ignoring, is a mistake. Because when your head’s in the sand, a large and vulnerable part of your anatomy is sticking up high in the air.
Chris Nolan is the founder of Spot-on.com, which offers targeted online ad placement and buying services.