How buyers calibrate for reach and frequency in the 2022 midterms could decide the outcome of close contests as campaigns and groups face an uncertain media landscape.
Online political advertisers could face tighter restrictions that will make it harder to effectively spend the anticipated increase in digital paid media budgets.
On cable, broadcast and over-the-top (OTT) streaming, the challenge will be finding voters who are under- or unexposed to political advertising — no easy feat when analysts are expecting some $8.9 billion in media spend for the competitive midterm cycle.
John Link, a VP at AdImpact, a data company that’s predicted the $8.9 billion figure, expects to see candidate campaigns shift more of their spending outside of the pre-primary and pre-general election windows when the FCC’s rules mandate that they receive the lowest unit rate for their spots.
“That’s when I think creativity will come in for these campaigns or these party groups to try and garner as much exposure to their messaging as possible,” he said.
To encapsulate the problem with ad saturation, National Media Research, Planning & Placement’s Adam Wise pointed to what happened in Montana last cycle because of the competitive landscape in the state. Using Kantar Media data, he looked at every broadcast spot, corporate and political, that ran in Montana during the final stretch of 2020.
“Over 50 percent of all advertising in the state of Montana at the second week of August was political. By the third week in September, over 70 percent of all advertising in the state of Montana on broadcast television was political,” he said.
“In politics you have this problem where we have all of these broad metrics for reach and frequency, and we haven’t yet really fixed them. And we haven’t figured out a way to target under-exposed and unexposed folks,” Wise continued. “As eyeballs become more fragmented, spend exists in these very concentrated environments.”
His solution for campaigns and groups in 2022? “The best mitigation strategy is hiring good buyers,” he said. “It’s not as simple as putting an order in early.”
Still, even experienced buyers are offering that advice to clients. In fact, Shannon Chatlos, an SVP of digital at Strategic Partners & Media, has told some clients — particularly groups looking to play in 2022 — to get their orders in ASAP.
“The best thing that any of the groups can do right now is to buy early. Make your dollar count because the rates are going to go up,” she said. “The organizations are all aware of the situation. They see the writing on the wall.”
Chatlos also sees trouble ahead in the restrictions that the so-called walled garden platform companies like Facebook and Alphabet could unveil for political advertisers: “Those platforms, I do have major concerns about their limiting people’s content. Will they sell out fast or will they shut down altogether?”
Some OTT publishers, she added, “are already limiting how much we can buy. Not all of them, I won’t call anyone out, but the high-end publishers, the high-end OTT streamers, are already limiting how much we’re allowed to buy.”
Her advice to clients finding themselves on the wrong end of ad placement restrictions: “Extend your buy. You’re not going to want to go in and say, ‘I want to run this ad for a week.’ You’re going to want to give yourself time in the marketplace to reach your audience,” she said.
But as much as she loves OTT and Facebook for her clients’ ad dollars, Chatlos said she’s still open to looking elsewhere for eyeballs.
“All of us get uncomfortable learning new platforms, but the reality is that if you’re creative enough to get in front of someone, you’re going to get in front of someone. I don’t care if you have to get an airplane banner flying over a stadium,” she said. “We’re even thinking about buying ads in church bulletins.”
She paused and added: “I feel for the undecided voter in 2022.”