When the 2020 presidential race began, no one could have predicted the current pandemic and the huge impact it would have on many political advertising campaigns. It’s no secret that the big players spend big budgets making sure they reach the right person, at the right time through the right device.

Jesse Contario

Jesse Contario

But the pandemic has had a huge effect on the demand and supply of advertising. On top of that, changes in the way we’re consuming digital content and interacting with our connected devices are having big consequences for the advertisers trying to reach us.

Content consumption has increased by nearly 2% day-over-day since the national emergency began. YouTube visits have increased by 14%, and movie consumption has seen a spike of 28% since pre-lockdown. But just because consumption has increased, doesn’t mean that demand has. With advertisers pulling or reducing their ad spend because stores are shutting down, and consumer habits changing in terms of how much we consume and when we do it, cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM) has fallen for many domains.

Melissa Kurstin

Melissa Kurstin

Many of these new inventory opportunities are to be found around content relating to business, industry news and health and wellness. While these topics might not be where general advertisers are looking for their audience — because they’re not relevant or there are brand safety concerns — these are exactly the kinds of opportunities that political advertisers are looking for to connect with potential voters.

And because inventory costs for these content types have significantly dropped over the last three weeks, it’s a double opportunity to drive higher reach through less-expensive yet still high-value inventory.

Rise of Cord-Cutters, OTT

Even before the outbreak, TV consumption was changing. We found that during a one-month period in 2020, 16% of identified households were watching OTT content through their smart TVs and another 8% were apparent cord-cutters.

Cord-cutters tend to be younger, meaning that people aged 18-34 are the easiest to target through smart TVs. Generally, households with fewer than three members have higher OTT content consumption (2.4 times higher). Households with dependents or retirees are more likely to watch content using both linear and OTT. Importantly, OTT consumption has increased 50% amongst those between the ages of 35 and 54 — voters the candidates need to reach — since mid March.

But a higher OTT use doesn’t necessarily correlate to high TV consumption overall. In fact, households with linear TV tend to watch nearly double the amount of TV content than households with access to OTT platforms. This is all-important information when attempting to reach potential voters.

Peaks in TV watching used to occur on the weekends, but now that behavior has flipped due to the fact that we’ve had our TV fill by Saturday. Additionally, daytime viewing is up, creating more opportunities for political advertisers to reach their audience.

News consumption has risen 32%, movies 26% and premium content 22%. However there have been significant declines in music (-3%) and sports (-14%) content. The cancellation of huge sporting events has caused many advertisers to reconsider how they are going to reach those audiences. The possible loss of the Major League Baseball season could have a large impact on political advertising due to its older-skewing audience containing many potential voters.

Measuring Success in Unsure Times

Measuring the success of a political campaign can be tricky. Advertisers are often given one chance to measure true success — Election Day — and by that time the need for measurement and optimization is over. That’s why it is critical for political advertisers to find effective ways of measuring success through proxy metrics prior to election day.

One way of doing this is by measuring incremental reach. Advertisers need to see to what extent a campaign is able to expand its reach to include new households and voters that weren’t previously being reached through other ad buys. This is especially useful for campaigns that are focused on reaching cord-cutters or cord-trimmers, where the goal may be to make sure previously unreachable audiences are being reached. By using OTT as a way to reach cord-cutters and deliver media to people who were previously unreachable, political advertisers can make sure their campaign messages are getting to the highest reach.

2020 was shaping up to be a monumental year for U.S. politics and the pandemic has forced most physical rallies and outdoor marketing collateral online.

Political advertisers need to not only make sure they take advantage of new opportunities, but also ensure they continually refresh their approach during these uncertain times. 

Jesse Contario is director, political & advocacy, and Melissa Kurstin is regional VP, mid-Atlantic, at MiQ. 

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