Craig “Campaign Doc” Varoga is a longtime Democratic strategist and manager. Questions on strategy, general consulting, or anything campaign-related? Send questions using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter @CVaroga or CVaroga@Varoga.US and he’ll answer them right here.
Q: I have a question regarding whether campaigns should give a second thought to placing pre-roll ads on YouTube. My question involves the controversy of ads being placed ahead of objectionable content. Should we stop buying on YouTube, or keep doing what we’ve been doing?
A: Make no mistake about it: Objectionable content on sites where you advertise is a brand risk with the potential of significant political fallout. But most consultants advise vigilance rather than a complete retreat, essentially arguing that YouTube is too big to ignore.
According to Lizzie Kendrick, VP of digital at the Democratic consulting firm The Campaign Workshop, “YouTube makes up a huge share of the inventory for pre-roll and it would be a mistake to ignore it. As tech companies such as Google and Facebook work to create a solution to their content problem — likely moving away from AI [artificial intelligence] to more human-based monitoring — advertisers will need to work diligently with their media buyers and vendors to ensure everything possible is being done for brand safety.”
Collin Berglund, vice president at Rational 360, a nonpartisan public affairs firm, notes, “While brand safety issues on YouTube have made headlines of late, the platform remains a worthwhile part of a comprehensive digital campaign. The targeting juice the network provides is still worth some risk in the squeeze because YouTube allows campaigns to serve content to custom audiences, often based on level of support, likelihood to turn out and likelihood to donate.”
FWIW, YouTube has committed to several steps to improve brand safety. But campaigns and buyers should remain vigilant and not stand down – i.e., caveat emptor: Buyer beware.
Q: How do we report payments to a spokesperson who appears in ads for a statewide ballot measure?
A: First, campaign finance requirements differ by state, so there are 50 answers to this question (and then there’s also DC, Puerto Rico and Guam). So, you really need to consult a qualified election attorney for the one answer that will keep you out of trouble.
Second, just as an example, the California Secretary of State’s office notes that a committee that pays an individual $5,000 or more to appear in an advertisement, which supports or opposes a ballot measure or its qualification, must file a report “within 10 days of the expenditure.” This report is required to “identify the state or local measure, including the name, number or letter, and jurisdiction of the measure supported or opposed in the advertisement, the date of the expenditure, the name of the individual who was paid $5,000 or more to appear in the advertisement, and the amount of the expenditure.”
Third, and maybe most saliently, why on earth would you pay someone to be a spokesperson in the first place? In this era of “desperately seeking authenticity” and controversies surrounding “fake news” (whatever that really is), it’s incalculably wiser to use real people, who are unpaid volunteers, rather than to either hire actors (the worst) or essentially pay for an endorsement (okay, that’s really the worst).
Q: What issues do you think we should prepare for and emphasize this election cycle?
A: In a whiplash election, which is what this year will be, the greater political wisdom will be finding a theme that works (e.g., be the calm in the storm, get stuff done despite the dysfunction in Washington, and so on) and then using a few policy items (creating jobs, improving schools, protecting healthcare) to affirm your overarching theme.
But to be clear, anyone bullishly predicting in the first quarter of this year what will matter in October or November is either an idiot, a raving lunatic or a masochist who enjoys being wrong for the simple pleasure of parading his or her fallibility before a distracted and uninterested public.
Craig Varoga consults on local, state, national and international campaigns and is a regular political analyst in numerous news media. Send questions using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter @CVaroga or CVaroga@Varoga.US.