Think back to the not-so-distant past, when our media choices were limited to cable or broadcast. Now come back to today, when the typical viewer has almost infinite choices on multiple screens at any given time of day.
In this media environment, campaign buying structures need to adapt.
No longer can we afford to silo the buying for traditional media and digital media. The strongest campaign strategies — indulge us here — “synergize" all facets of their voter communication efforts, particularly within the biggest line item of the campaign’s budget: the media buy.
At our shop, there’s a saying that we drum into the heads of all of our media buyers: deconstruct your own viewing prejudices. The media habits of young professionals in DC rarely match those of a swing voter in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It’s our job to figure out how to reach any audience that’s needed to build a winning majority. That means being well versed in all types of media, both linear and digital, and planning across multiple screens.
We start by rejecting the false premise that traditional TV is dead and that the majority of viewership has shifted to online and streaming platforms. That’s not to say that streaming TV and digital aren’t a popular and growing industry. They are, and they have an important place in a modern media plan.
It’s just that it hasn’t yet eclipsed linear television in hours spent viewing. A recent Nielsen Media study showed that in the first quarter of 2019, the typical adult 18+ spends, on average, 4 hours and 27 minutes a day watching traditional live television, recording or on-demand programming. By comparison, the same viewer spends only 54 minutes per day watching programming on a TV-connected device. Television is, as they say in that Monty Python sketch, “not dead yet!”
This is even more clear when you bump viewership data up against specific age segments. According to Nielsen’s Total Audience Report, 1Q 2019, Adults 50+, on average, watched 6 hours and 30 minutes of traditional television and only spent 3 hours and 17 minutes on a tablet or a smartphone app.
In a Catalist study of the 2018 electorate, Voters 50+ made up a full 60 percent of the electorate. As you would expect, the difference in viewing habits with younger voters is stark. Adults 18-34 spent only one hour and 54 minutes on traditional TV and just over 4 hours on a smartphone or tablet. Catalist estimated that this group made up just 17 percent of the 2018 electorate.
All of this is to say you can’t just buy linear or digital, you have to buy both. And if viewers aren’t differentiating between their different screens, why should your campaign’s buying structure?
There are additional benefits to having the same buyer for both digital and linear. It avoids the “turf war” between the two camps and allows the buying team to be device agnostic. Meaning we’ll deliver your message wherever, and however makes the most sense for the campaign’s goals — be that on television, social media, or in the case of one IE trying to get the attention of presidential candidates – a crop circle in the flight path of planes landing at the Des Moines airport.
Keeping that in mind, the media mix for each district should and will be different. A buyer working across all forms of media can look at what works for a district, and plan accordingly. There’s no worrying about share of budget unless it pertains to the media consumption habits of the district. So your digital budget could be heavy when your targets are young voters in metro Seattle, whereas if you’re targeting older voters in Southeast Ohio, you could do no digital and instead focus your assets on local radio.
The strongest media plans are those that include a deep roster of media outlets. TV is TV and it doesn’t matter if the viewer is watching it on a tablet, smartphone or a TV Set in their living room. They’re all consuming the same product and we should treat it as such. Our goal in all media planning is to follow the target from screen to screen, and to reach them everywhere they’re consuming media. That means live cable and broadcast, on-demand choices, streaming television, digital video, terrestrial and digital audio, and social platforms.
The media audience fragmentation is greater now than it ever has been. With every new viewing option, your message is at risk of being lost in the noise. The best way to ensure that your message is breaking through is to deliver it, repeatedly, across multiple platforms. Siloing digital media from traditional can interfere with this integrated approach. Or, as we like to say here, “left hand, meet right hand.”
Casey Bessette and Michele Certo are senior media buyers at Sage Media Planning & Placement, Inc., a Democratic media planning and research firm.