September 26, 1960. If you immediately recognized that as a date that had a profound impact on U.S. electoral history, you qualify as a political junkie.
In case that date didn’t immediately ring a bell, I’ll remind you: John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon squared off in the first nationally televised political debate, drawing an audience of roughly 80 million, or half the U.S. population. The well-known results: those who listened to the debate on radio generally felt Nixon won. But on TV, the contrast between the young, vivacious Kennedy and Nixon, pale and underweight from a recent hospital stay, led viewers to the opposite conclusion.
The debate marked a sea change in the way visuals influenced the electorate, and thus campaign strategy. I believe we are at a similar inflection point today, as research and advanced data analytics are poised to reshape political strategy for the foreseeable future.
Television wasn’t entirely new to the 1960 election: Dwight Eisenhower ran what’s credited as the first political television spot advertising campaign eight years earlier. Nor were debates themselves new. But with television adoption reaching critical mass in U.S. households, those trends converged to shift the dynamics.
In 2016, we see parallels in political marketing. Certainly, research and analytics have been at the core of advertising strategy for decades. What’s new is the amount and depth of data, and technology that allows it to be segmented in seemingly endless ways.
Data is reaching critical mass, allowing more campaigns to more thoroughly identify who they need to engage, based on information that goes far deeper than traditional age/gender breakdowns. On the back end, technology allows campaigns to quickly analyze if their plans are having the desired impact, and to adjust by changing messages or media schedules, for instance. It also allows for more strategic responses to challenges from opposing campaigns, being prepared to move quickly to counter a negative message or development.
And much as Eisenhower Answers America presaged the use of TV by virtually all campaigns, at Comcast Spotlight, we’ve had the honor of working with a number of campaigns to use research and advanced data analytics in innovative ways that, I believe, have blazed a trail that will become the new standard operating procedure for advertising.
For example, we worked with a statewide campaign with two primary audiences, and distinct messages for each. For supporters, a “get out the vote” message reinforced the candidate’s achievements, while for swing voters, messages focused on the opponent’s vulnerabilities. We were able to use an invisible overlay during commercials to compile anonymized aggregated ad exposure data, allowing us to analyze the effectiveness of the campaigns in reaching those audiences, and, importantly, opportunities to boost that effectiveness even further.
We also were able to identify the specific programs that “moved the needle” (spanning sports, drama, reality and news). We further found that no single hour on a given network reached more than a small percentage of a target audience, but purchasing time on more than two dozen networks in all dramatically boosted unduplicated reach.
Among advancements political marketers can now take advantage of is our Audience Plus programmatic television platform, which employs streamlined television buying capabilities to offer greater efficiency and effectiveness. Put simply, we have used extensive aggregate audience research to create “off-the-shelf” groups of networks that reach specific types of voters—by party affiliation or by a general characteristic, like those who voted in the last election.
For each of those audiences, there is an associated group of television networks, which can be purchased in one transaction, for ease of execution and improved overall performance. We’re also working with campaigns to develop customized aggregate audience profiles, with accompanying groupings of networks.
We’re also putting the industry’s leading video-on-demand (VOD) platform to work for political marketers through addressable dynamic ad insertion, a technology that’s come into its own since the last presidential election cycle. Campaigns can use their research and data to identify the types of audiences they want to reach, and deliver focused messages to those groups within an immense array of programming appealing to varied demographics.
There are moments in time when gradual evolution gives way to significant revolution, and I submit that history will show the 2016 election cycle to be among those moments. The only question is whether you want to lead that change.
At Comcast Spotlight, our answer is a definitive “yes.” If yours is as well, we can work together to make that happen.