What does the torrent of digital political spending mean for non-political advertisers this year?
Every so often there appears a perfect storm in the advertising world when huge events command and divert the attention of the consuming public and therefore draw the dollars of the advertisers, particularly in television. Actually, this particular perfect storm is perfectly predictable and happens every four years when the U.S. presidential election occurs. This election cycle is especially advertising-heavy due to the highly contested race and relaxed rules governing the collection and spending of super PAC dollars. With each side determined not to be outspent, the public is engulfed in an arms race of advertising that floods the airwaves, and now the Internet, with ads of all types. Non-political marketers can be collateral damage if they're not careful.
The research firm Borrell Associates puts election spending in 2012 at $9.8 billion, an increase of 40 percent over 2008's $7 billion spend, while a recent study on political advertising from the Wesleyan Media Project documented a decidedly negative twist in ad approach and content. The Wesleyan study documented negative content in 70 percent of presidential ads in 2012 versus just 9 percent in 2008.
Much of the political money is being spent on television but President Obama in his first-term election proved the case for digital campaigns and advertising making heavy use of social media, in particular, for fundraising and to rally the votes that put him in office. This election year both parties are devoting brainpower and dollars to reaching voters with regular digital messaging showing a highly sophisticated and varied approach that includes all digital channels. The Internet's ability to create intimate, interactive communications and deliver precisely targeted messaging is a definite advantage in reaching key swing states and districts as well as the sliver of non-committed voters who can make or break a race.
What does this mean for non-political advertisers? For most advertisers this torrent of digital political spending has several impacts.
Inventory availability. Premium display inventory may be even more premium. There is no shortage of available impressions but key buying populations are also key voting populations and they will be targeted by the political strategists making the best placements more pricey and less available, particularly at local levels. The most active political advertising window also falls during the peak holiday sales period, which could exacerbate the inventory problem. Plan early if you can to get your buys in place. Pay close attention to the contract details of the buy to make sure it's not diluted with additional ad placements or more frequent rotations, and specify the metrics in your reporting that demonstrate the efficacy of the buy. Third-party ad serving will be critical for verification.
Mobile deluge. Just when most advertisers are finally striking out into the mobile world of ads and apps, content, and interactions, the politicos will be there in force. Don't judge your results too hastily if your initial or test periods coincide with the election ramp up.
Ad responsiveness. Increases in the volume of ads are inversely proportional to the consumer responsiveness you can expect. When consumers are bombarded with ads they tune them out even more efficiently than they normally do. You may be wise to invest more heavily in very targeted, referral-based ads available in social media. There is nothing like a personal dynamic to break out of a cluttered ad environment.
Content and ad adjacencies. If your audience, brand, or messaging is sensitive to political content or affiliation make sure that you specify any exclusions that you need to have in your display buy. As we edge closer to the election, more and more election content will appear - and not just on news sites.
Rely on search. Your best shot at reaching relevant customers is when they come looking for you, so make sure you can easily be found with a broad search campaign in place. Search takes you away from the screaming mass of ad impressions but primarily connects you to those already looking for you. You still need some channels and tactics to create awareness and demand. In an oversaturated display environment, the combination of search and social advertising may meet your needs better than a display and search combo you might have employed in past years.
Blogger contracts. If your brand is visible with particular bloggers during this politically charged time, make sure that you have a complete understanding of whether and what kind of political content they may deliver to their readers. Even non-political bloggers may be tempted to weigh in on this important debate when we're in the eye of the storm.
Review your messaging platform. It may not be too farfetched to think that the negative content that's bombarding the population and the confrontational mood that's being fueled might create some ad and messaging fatigue. Consider a light approach to capture the attention of your battle-weary prospects with the best plan always to test messaging to establish the most effective style and tone.
The environmental impact of so large an event, particularly an advertising event, has to be considered in your fourth quarter strategy if you hope to avoid being swept along or swept aside of this political and advertising storm.
What adjustments do you plan to make to your strategy this Q4?
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Robin is the CEO and cofounder of NetPlus Marketing Inc., a top 50 interactive agency established in 1996 to focus exclusively on online marketing and advertising best practices. Robin brings innovative strategy and a depth and breadth of marketing experience to the agency's practice and management. As one of the industry's pioneers, she is a driving force behind NetPlus Marketing's ongoing success with a diverse and discerning client base that considers online results critical to their business success.
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