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Digital Media Insights in Political Marketing—2022 Elections Edition

Section 1: MEDIA EXCITEMENT

  • Vast majority of respondents consider connected TV (CTV) the most promising development for digital campaigns.
  • In programmatic advertising, premium inventory access is drawing almost equal excitement as CTV.
  • Voter file data made a big jump — consistently top five selection in each of the last three election cycles.

In July 2022, Basis Technologies surveyed 50+ progressive, conservative and non-partisan agencies, consultants and advocacy organizations specializing in political marketing. According to their responses, connected TV and programmatic advertising continue to gain popularity among political marketers. While the total amount of TV consumption has remained consistent in the past year, the amount U.S. viewers have streamed has increased 22.6%, compared to declines in cable and broadcast of 8.9% and 9.8% respectively, according to Nielsen. Of our survey respondents, 80% consider connected TV as the most promising development for their digital campaigns. This was up from 63% in 2020 and just 40% in 2018. In programmatic advertising, premium inventory access is drawing almost equal excitement. The growing availability of premium CTV ad inventory through demand-side platforms (DSPs), versus buying CTV ads directly with streaming platforms, is likely driving this excitement.

Popularity of using voter file data also made a big jump. This is consistently among the top five selections in the three election cycles Basis Technologies has conducted this poll. This typical tactic for finding voters still has opportunities to innovate because of continued fragmentation of audiences in digital channels. This can also mean that political advertisers aren’t concerned about cookie depreciation, especially when Google is delaying the blocking of 3rd party cookies on Chrome to 2024. However, the industry may be in for a wake-up call as they are forced to re-think voter targeting right before a big 2024 election year.

Survey data from past elections (when our company was ‘Centro’) are available for 2020 and 2018.

Section 2: BUDGET

There seems to be a movement towards balance in digital budgets. A majority of respondents say they are allocating between 25 to 55 percent of budgets to digital. Compared to previous years, there are now fewer political advertisers saying they budget 25% or less to digital, but there are also fewer who say they allocate more than 55% of budget to this channel (14% now versus 30% in 2020). These projections are in-line with forecasts from analytics firm Cross Screen Media, which predicted roughly 34% of 2022 midterm spending would be allocated to digital. As an aside, more respondents from Democrat-aligned firms think that their digital budget allocations are too low (48% of Dems compared to 38% of Conservative respondents).

Section 3: CTV

Full-service buyers that have competency in both TV and digital, as well as digital buyers, are winning CTV budgets at a higher rate than traditional TV specialists. Full-service firms saw the highest jump from 2020, when only 29% of respondents stated that full-service buyers won more CTV budgets. The advertising industry is still learning CTV, and it bridges two worlds, which explains why there isn’t a clear-cut winner in approaches. It can be a challenge for traditional linear TV buyers to learn programmatic tactics in general, and an even larger hurdle to understand CTV ad buying within the discipline. There is still more development in the technology so these percentage shares may not move much in the next election cycle.

Section 4: Programmatic

Programmatic advertising is absolutely a key component for any digital political team. It is almost universally used, with 92% saying it is important to digital campaigns, which is a significant jump from 78% ‘Yes’ responses in 2020. The dispute on programmatic is waning in each election cycle—there are zero “I don’t know” responses, which is down from 5% in 2020 and 13% in 2018. As political marketers increase programmatic usage, they are likely to encounter the complexity of the platforms and options, quickly realizing that there are numerous ways to activate the various tactics under its umbrella. That’s on top of all the underlying elements that need to be managed, such as creative approvals, data usage, service models, and interconnection to non-programmatic digital tactics.

As referenced earlier, the use of programmatic and CTV among political advertisers is likely correlated. Respondents say CTV scale is now the most important capability in programmatic platforms—up from No. 2 in 2020. There is much more inventory available in CTV this year than in the previous election cycle. Additionally, they are available through various tactics within programmatic.

Another change is ‘Customer Service Support’ jumping from No. 7 in 2020 to No. 2. More value is being placed on hands-on interactions with partners in programmatic. We can deduce that some of this is related to the general complexity in the data, inventory, creative approval and measurement used for this technology. Creative approval is not yet fully automated and much of programmatic-driven campaigns still rely on the expertise of people and the activation of partners on behalf of candidates and their agencies.

Section 5: Great Resignation

In every election cycle survey, Basis Technologies asks a question unique to this moment in time. In 2022, staffing is a challenge for numerous organizations, but this doesn’t seem to affect the majority of marketing teams for political organizations—58% say that the Great Resignation hasn’t impacted their firms. In this segment of politics and marketing, fluidity in staffing may be the norm especially before and after elections season. Perhaps agencies and consulting firms are ready to weather the activity and the lulls. However, it should be noted that more than 40% say they are being affected with turnover in some form.

Section 6: Concerns

The shifting of policies is the top concern again, although it is down from the number of respondents that noted it in 2020 (81%). The pace of new restrictions being announced to target political advertising has indeed slowed. Targeting specific voters was again No. 2, although also down from its 2020 percentage (66%). Digital teams noting cookie depreciation as a concern indicates that this is still a concern even if Google’s deadline is a few years away. Marketers could be using this year as an opportunity to try tactics that don’t reply on third-party cookies, knowing that this may be the norm in 2024. As always, finding the right talent will be a concern for a significant portion of the respondents. Staffing is generally a challenge for political cycles, but there is likely increased difficulty because of the complexity of digital, the increased use of programmatic technology, and high competition for experienced buyers.

Section 7: Political environment

There is relatively less uncertainty and less concern of how the current political environment will impact outcomes. In 2020, an overwhelming majority said they were not sure and only 6% stated there will be no impact. This year’s responses to this question is more in line with 2018, with 21% saying there will be ‘No impact,’ and 51% saying ‘Yes, but not sure which way.” These questions were posed to marketers after they’ve been able to observe how major events such as the Russian war in Ukraine, Roe vs. Wade decision, inflation and the Uvalde shooting were affecting sentiments in different communities. The numbers that closely reflect 2018 responses could be due to factors such as this election being a midterm much like 2018, or that 2020 was a unique confluence of a Presidential Pandemic Year Election.

Section 8: Final thoughts

Basis Technologies asked respondents to write-in the topics or issues that will impact their work the most. Clearly, digital buyers have inventory and premium media on their radars. Actual voter issues are not the main concern for marketers. However, ultimately, they want voter turnout because elections have only two outcomes—you win or you lose.

Acknowledgments

As a thank you to our industry peers and partners, Basis Technologies is donating $250 to Feeding America, Autism Speaks, and the International Red Cross, as selected by survey respondents.

About Basis Technologies’ Candidates and Causes Group

Basis Technologies is a leading provider of cloud-based workflow automation and business intelligence software for marketing and advertising. It’s Candidate and Causes team has been trusted by agencies and consultants in politics, public affairs, and advocacy. Its Basis platform is composed of integrated applications that automate manual operations, standardize business processes, and improve marketing and advertising performance. Basis provides a comprehensive selection of unique buying methods across all channels and devices, utilizing all major creative types and formats. Since 2008, Basis Technologies has helped power digital media for over 1,500 political campaigns and independent expenditure committees, and over 2,000 issue advocacy advertisers. In 2020, among the 400+ U.S. elections campaigns working with Basis Technologies, 70% had winning outcomes.

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