When it comes to advertising, modern political campaigns have more tools at their disposal than ever before, resulting in a digital deluge of political messaging like the one that hit New England in the weeks before this fall’s midterm elections.
TV commercials and glossy mailers were still plentiful, but voters were just as likely to find campaign ads on their favorite websites, their mobile phones, and even in their video games.
Many of these ads were developed by Precision Network, a Washington, D.C.-based digital media buying firm working with Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s reelection campaign in New Hampshire. The messages were similar to what voters heard and saw on television, but where and how the information was delivered would have been hard to imagine just a few election cycles ago.
We spoke to Precision’s senior media director, Andrew Eldredge-Martin, for more details:
How did 2014 compare to 2012 in terms of advertising technology?
Precision Network was born out of the 2012 campaign, and it was focused on reaching audiences with a more targeted set of advertisements through any digital channel. The 2014 cycle was much more about taking the technology and capabilities of the 2012 cycle and scaling it down to statewide races. That was what we did in the Shaheen campaign.
What we added in the 2014 cycle was the ability to do a couple of key things. The first one . . . was the ability to track viewability of ads. We can actually see when the audiences . . . were dropping off. We can see if folks were tabbing over to check their e-mail or muting the video. . . .
It’s very hard to keep people’s attention online. . . . You need to be looking at the [ad] you’re running in terms of making it engaging to the audience that you’re reaching. We would see differences depending on those audiences. Younger voters would often be responding in a different way than, let’s say, women.
You had ads on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Where else were voters likely to see and hear from the campaign?
We ran (ads on) Pandora for the campaign. . . . One of the places we did ads to target younger voters was on Xbox.
Yes. We ran video ads there. We were going after voters 18 to 35.
How did you coordinate these new types of ads with more traditional tactics like mailers and TV spots?
It’s really important to get good buy-in from an entire team so you know what the key audiences are going to be over the course of a campaign.
I used to work in direct mail and political television, so I think these conversations are pretty straightforward. It’s using the same language: You’re talking about a target audience, you’re talking about message frequency, you’re taking about targeting. Those conversations make a lot of sense. There was really great buy-in from the team in terms of the Shaheen campaign, and we worked together really well.
Another thing we did was early reservation of inventory. There’s a perception that there is an unlimited inventory available with digital advertising, and that’s not true when you’re trying to reach very specific audiences at a certain time with a particular media. It is important for digital media buyers to know that.
Any surprises in terms of how the ads were received?
One of the things that we noticed was that the younger audiences we were reaching were engaging at a higher rate . . . than some of the other audiences. The conventional wisdom is that younger audiences might not be as engaged, but we saw the reverse. We think it was a key piece of the campaign.
How else is technology changing the way campaigns coordinate ads?
Another new capability in 2014 was digital ad tracking [with proprietary software]. We were able to track opposition groups and see what kinds of ads they were running online. . . . A good example is we saw the outside group Ending Spending running some really nasty, negative ads attacking the senator, and we were able to basically match the types of targeting they were doing the following week. It gave us an opportunity to see what they were saying, when they were saying, and where they were saying it. We didn’t have to put out a response absolutely everywhere.
We see that as a 2016 value-add. National campaigns are going to be doing it.