Oh, What a Year

We’ve had another election, so it’s time for Spot-On to put on its political reporter spyglass to look (and share!) what we see as important trends for media consultants and buyers.

Parties May Not be Dead, But They’re on Life Support

The number of voters who refused to affiliate with one party or another is now about the same as the number of voters who identify as Republicans, according to BallotPedia. This has implications for legislating – as we’ve seen in the U.S. House and Senate – but also for the party infrastructure that determines what gets on the ballot.

There are lots of arguments over whether these ‘none of the above’ registrants lean Democrat or Republican, but they seem beside the point. The bottom line is that these voters don’t like what they see with both parties and are opting out.

That’s why…..

Ticket-Splitting Is For Keeps.

Voters who don’t select a party when they register are, by definition, not loyal to one party or another. This year, they liked Democrats for the most part (but not entirely).

Next year? Who knows. That’s why….

Donor Domination is a Problem for Parties, Not Just Candidates

Donors with specific causes or concerns have outsized power because the role that the party would play in collecting funds, selecting and vetting candidates or looking and arguing at how ballot measures affect turn-out, can’t be enforced. In a world where campaigns can raise a significant portion of money from people with specific agendas, the threat that a donor will “take my ball and go home” is more of a threat than ever.

And those agendas can often be at odds with what the party as a whole or the electorate are interested in seeing happen.

As a result…

“Nationalized” Campaigns are Often Backfiring

Democrats thought they’d chase Sen. Susan Collins out of office. Didn’t work. Last year, it was Stacey Abrams’ second attempt to become governor of Georgia. Sarah Palin got the back end of this one this year. So did Senate hopeful Hershel Walker.

In all of these cases, voters decided which candidate had their best interests at heart. And instead of looking at the money spent or arguments made by outside groups spending lots and lots of money, many of them voted for the candidate, not the overwhelming party cause.

That’s the high level stuff. Here’s some nitty gritty that dovetails with some of those observations.

Warning: It’s not Good News.

Tracking Voters is Going to be Far More Difficult.

Spot-On heard from a number of clients about poor results from programmatic ‘voter-matched’ ad buys. Click-through engagement rates were in low single digits on campaigns all across the country. This trend is likely to continue down and to the right.

Why? Privacy settings are taking effect with voters. Swing voters like the ones profiled in the NYTimes ticket-splitting pieces are well off enough to own iPhones and other Apple devices, and they’re smart enough to deploy the heavy duty privacy settings on those devices. After all, that’s a key part of Apple’s marketing.

The privacy wave has been a subtle erosion that seems to have accelerate over the past year. Here’s one vendor’s (somewhat self-aggrandizing) take on what may happen moving forward.

There are other reasons that tracking is going to get harder. Looking at 2024, Google has said it will replace its tracking technology with less invasive methods. And then there are more and more laws about digital privacy. Four states joined California in enacting laws that cut down on tech platforms’ ability to track users. And more than 20 states considered – but didn’t pass – similar bills.

Pressure on Tech Means Less Clarity for Political

Big Tech is in for another rough year in Washington and on Wall Street.

When the President calls you out, you’ve got trouble. Across the board, Big Tech Management is going to be even more distracted by threats from falling stock prices and opinion pieces like the one President Biden recently published in the Wall Street Journal. Big Tech is going to look to satisfy The Street first and lawmakers second. That’s especially true of political go-to’s like Google and Facebook (aka “Meta”). The Atlantic had a great summation of the challenges late last year, and the Washington Post has this take on Biden’s op-ed, both of which are worth a read, especially for the sections on user privacy.

Our take: If you thought you were on your own last year – just wait. And make no mistake, what happens with Google affects ALL ad exchanges and platforms. It’s that big.

Oh, and as a sideline that should disturb anyone who paid double-digit CPMs last year: it’s becoming increasingly common knowledge that the digital ad ecosystem is built on known and acknowledged fraud. That’s not going to help Big Tech with regulators and lawmakers, not one bit.

So, What’s to be Done?

There’s a year’s worth – okay, six months – of time here for digital ad buyers to think about 2024. We’ve seen what’s not working in 2022, and what that says about what to expect in 2024.

One, streaming video is likely to be more powerful next year – and hopefully better organized. It’s also going to be a good tool to reach upper income, better educated voters like those who swung the 2020 and 2022 elections.

But there are going to be other ways to reach that crowd. Long time readers of our newsletters know Spot-On pushes ads on known, trusted local news sites ahead of programmatic. We do this because we see how that process works and we know real-time-bidding for remnant placements gives short shrift to sporadic ad buyers like political. We know that “anonymized” voter data costs a lot and doesn’t perform better than straight geo-targeting – especially in this new, privacy-conscious world. By contrast, we see accountability, transparency and high reader engagement on local news sites.

We’re also seeing growth at the local news level, with new products and an increasingly sophisticated understanding of what political buyers need. And yeah, we helped. We’ll continuing our work with publishers who are interested in reclaiming political dollars because more and more of them are getting serious about how to do that. And we’re not tired of telling political ad buyers that local news does a good job of reaching voters, providing accountability and impact.

Want to know more? Give us a shout. We’ll fill you in on the best ways to reach local news sites, quickly, easily and efficiently.