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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Why TV Still Rules Political Ad Wars

From Derek Willis’s “Online Political Ads Have Been Slow to Catch On as TV Reigns” at NYT’s The Upshot:

For all of the advances in the use of data and digital tools, broadcast advertising still claims the largest share of campaign budgets. Digital advertising is still a work in progress, especially at the level of House races and further down the ballot. Targeting voters with online ads is difficult, messy work, even under ideal circumstances. It can be easier to accomplish in statewide or national campaigns, where building a large enough audience is less of a problem.
“It’s never quite as smooth or seamless as it sounds,” said Zac Moffatt, a co-founder of Targeted Victory. But like a lot of other data-intensive campaign tasks, such as matching absentee ballots to a campaign’s email list, it has improved over time. That message is echoed by other digital advertising professionals: The technology to make it happen is available, but the process is not perfect.
…A look at campaign spending data reveals that most competitive House races are not emphasizing that kind of spending.
It is hard to find evidence of a shift from broadcast spending to digital in the 10 most highly contested House races in 2014. Spending that clearly went toward digital efforts (sometimes it is hard to tell) accounted for a small portion of the money spent by candidates…Candidates in those 10 most competitive races spent more than $34 million on television and radio advertisements and production, according to Federal Election Commission data. They spent less on digital efforts (about $1.1 million) than they did on direct mail or polling.
This shows a reluctance on the part of campaigns and consultants to move away from television, and uncertainty about the effectiveness and accuracy of online targeting.

As for the future, digital media may gain some leverage in the years ahead with a few tweaks. Digital is getting better at targeting users by neighborhood, instead of just cookies. Willis notes also that “the consumption of media on phones, tablets and other devices is increasing.” In addition, high-turnout seniors who are still digital-averse will slowly be replaced by more digitally-hip oldsters. For now, however, data indicates that digital technology is better for political fund-raising than for ads which win hearts and minds.

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