November is just around the corner and campaigns are gearing up for the ad war, with an ever-increasing focus on the digital space. As campaigns start to shift from a fundraising focus to a strategy focused more on persuasion and finally to get-out-the-vote, we should start to see a larger volume of political ads filling up our digital screens. Last month, the Trump campaign’s Google Ad Spend averaged out to about $670,000 a day. This is almost on par with the Trump campaign’s daily spend in the November 2018 midterm elections. Trump’s team didn’t stop there, they also have revved up their Facebook spending in the last month, averaging about $629,000 per week according to Facebook’s ad library. For three days in May, the Trump campaign spent over $100,000 to promote the bad faith message that Joe Biden is for mass incarceration & against Black lives. This ad ran in seven battleground states with a heavy focus in Florida, targeted mostly towards women & folks over the age of 45, which makes it an early persuasion ad to a swing demographic in a swing state. To no surprise, Trump has been outspending Biden on digital across Facebook and Google platforms. The Trump campaign has spent $52 million combined on tracked digital, mostly on fundraising efforts, while Biden stands at about $23 million so far.

Let’s put this into context: according to a political spending projections report produced by Cross Screen Media & Advertising Analytics, spending of the two presidential campaigns is to account for the largest segment of 2020 spending at $2.7B. $800M (29%) of this total will likely be spent on digital video. About two-thirds of this spend will come from President Trump’s campaign alone. For congressional campaigns, the projected total is $1.0B in 2020, with $242M in spending on digital video. Spending on Senate campaigns is expected to be down 14% to $789M in 2020, but with a record of $176M projected to go towards digital video online. Across all parties, $1.6B is the estimated digital video spend, much of which will be on Facebook and Google.

Republicans are more flexible about their type of content and modes of reaching people. In the past, Democrats have promoted video ads mainly for donation asks and fundraising, I’m pretty sure we have all seen those direct-to-camera iPhone videos every candidate produces, asking voters for ‘$1 before midnight’. The Republican playbook however tends to use videos extensively to promote awareness over their controversial hot button issues, trying to rile up their base. You also tend to see Democratic videos sticking manly to the same platforms -- Facebook, Youtube/Google with some CTV thrown into the mix, while Republicans have been better at using video in a more innovative way, targeting people based on their behavioral profiles and online usage, and retargeting segments across not just Facebook & Google/YouTube, but multiple platforms such as programmatic, CTV, and PMP deals. This allows Republicans to target people on their preferred media outlet, on issues they care about, with messages Republicans want to see amplified online.

A way to ensure that Democrats start to think more about online-video-first campaign strategies: Think pre-roll inventory first and TV inventory second. Further, campaigns must always think of the user experience in the ad, especially when it comes to digital. In DMA-level media buys, the message is shared across multiple audiences promoting a more general messaging, while with digital, audiences need to be addressed on the issues that the viewer values, or else you are just wasting impressions and views.

With digital spending climbing up, targeting becomes the key topic of discussion. Again, Republicans are leading the charge, and many conservative campaigns are preparing for larger addressable media campaigns, starting with an “audience-first approach” to persuasion advertising on TV and digital media: Instead of buying TV ads with a separate agency, these campaigns are now identifying 10,0000 to 20,000 key potential voters or supporters on a certain issue within a given district. They then create video messages targeting that particular segment. It’s a tactic reminiscent of platforms such as Google and Facebook, but applied to OTT platforms and linear TV.

If there is one thing to take away from all this: A key advertising tool that every campaign will need for the 2020 elections is digital video, and not just on Facebook & Google, but CTV, mobile video, and programmatic. Do your research where people are spending their time and how they consume media (such as our own research on LatinX media consumption). Curate your audiences, using social media and programmatic video inventory to target specific people based on message and behavior to create a truly “audience-first approach”.Organize your media plans such that video is the primary medium for your persuasion campaign. Think about investing the money you raise on digital to continue digital outreach to your audiences. The truth is: If you are not thinking of digital-video-first and audience first, you are already behind!

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