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Time to shift political ad buys to the web? Not so fast.

Technological innovations rarely come from the political scene — rather, they usually come to it after proving success in other fields. There are exceptions of course, most recently and famously shown by President Barack Obama’s two campaigns and the new techniques in voter data and modeling they came up with, among other things. But usually political campaign communication tends to borrow what works in other communication and bend it to be most effective for reaching voters. This often leads campaigns to operate a bit on the safe side by focusing on tactics that are proven to work rather then searching for new ways of doing business. You can see this in media, where direct mail remains an essential tool for reaching voters years after many other industries have abandoned the platform. Or in polling, where telephone surveys are still king despite the preeminence of online panels and email surveys in other market research disciplines. It just takes a little longer for the hot new thing to get to politics, where instead of shunning people over the age of 50 like many marketers do candidates must fight for the attention and votes of older Americans.

 

This is the frame of reference that I bring to discussing this post from Campaigns and Elections which has been making the rounds online. The story looks at a survey done by some well-respected political pollsters, an online targeting firm and Google that posits the demise of political television commercials. While the data is compelling and the trend away from live television and towards time-shifted viewing, on demand video and online services like Netflix and Hulu is undeniable, it is important to remember that in politics you can’t just reach for what’s hot — you have to balance the old with the new.

 

As a full-service campaign media firm that offers television ads and voter targeted online video placements, our firm is in a unique position to look at the landscape and see where campaign budgets should go. And the answer, as it so often is in campaigns, is that the budgets need to go to both the old and the new.  No campaign, from a local council race to statewide and beyond, should ignore online advertising, social media and all the new tools available on the web. But to invest only in online media to the detriment of time tested methods like TV, radio and direct mail is equally foolish.

 

When constructing a media budget, I like to make the online portion (including advertising, web design, production, etc.) at least 20% of the spend, but usually no more than 40%. No approach is one size fits all, but in general if your targeted voter is younger you hit them where they are, which is online. But in a low turnout, off year election you just can’t ignore tools like direct mail and cable television that let you get into the homes of the 50+ voters who will make up the bulk of the electorate.

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