US Election: How video galvanised lethargic TV viewers

Since the dawn of television, advertising has been a mainstay of American presidential elections. From the first political attack ad, Lyndon Johnson’s infamous ‘Daisy’ spot, to the George  W Bush campaign’s John Kerry windsurfing parody, the advertising has become more and more important. With spending reaching record levels, this election was no different. But behind the scenes there has been a revolution in how both side’s ads were targeted and delivered.

Every presidential election can point to big breakthroughs in marketing tactics that are often ahead of their time, but this election was unique in the way it embraced real-time media buying in both the display market, but more significantly video advertising.

With a massive amount spent on almost exclusively swing states, marketers naturally hit diminishing returns and distracted audiences with television advertising (that is a lot of money chasing the 2.3 million people of Nevada, for instance). As such, sizeable investments were made in digital advertising generally and and video in particular, which most closely mirrors TV.

So what are the top things we can learn from last month’s elections that saw president Barack Obama win four more years?

Of digital ad spending, a good portion went to video ads

This is not surprising given video’s persuasion power and campaigns’ long preference for television advertising. According to the U.S. Federal Elections Commission, $78.2 million was spent on digital advertising for the candidates. Real-time buying by agencies on TubeMogul’s video advertising platform accounted for 8.3% of that total according to our research. Others, like Hulu and YouTube, saw significant shares of spending.

Voter files meet digital targets

The top agencies are combining real-time surveys, voter files and retargeting people based on previous behaviour, customizing messages to reach the right voter with the right message. This level of targeting is rarely done by brand marketers.

Hyper-Customisation and retargeting work

While reliable Democrats watch ads that focus on getting out the vote, for instance, swing voters hear a different message. Email campaigns are similarly customised, with organizers getting emails urging them to volunteer, for instance.

Advertising is increasingly real-time 

We obviously bring an agenda to this, but exchange-based buying, particularly video, saw “significant investment,” according to Targeted Victory, a top spender during the race. Real-time buying of video is in many ways custom-tailored to political campaigns, who by nature have to shift tactics in minutes. The results let them tweak regions, creative mix, sites and audiences seeing an ad based on real-time survey and performance data.

Digital surveys playing a bigger role

Campaigns leveraged online surveys frequently to inform ad buys in real-time, measuring change in intent of viewers that saw ads. These surveys, typically used to measure lift in things like purchase consideration for brands, may eventually challenge offline surveys as they get more sophisticated. An example: 48 hours leading up to the election we used TubeMogul’s Brandsights survey technology to ask voters in the key state of Ohio who they planned to vote for, successfully predicting the winner within 1.1% of the actual results — all for £155.87 in survey gathering cost.

Paid media and earned media mesh

A video designed to be watched organically on YouTube (i.e. a speech) that does well can be turned into an pre-roll ad — and vice versa. Many views for YouTube videos come from featuring the video in a targeted email blast to supporters.

Everything is on the record (and that’s a good thing)

Often a lamented aspect of modern campaigns since it leads to gaffes being recorded; this can be turned to a candidate’s advantage, too. A video splicing lines from a speech that resonated with an audience (or, in the case of an opponent, did poorly) can easily be turned into a digital video ad.

Brett Wilson, CEO of video advertising buying platform TubeMogul.