Facebook (Finally) Exits Politics

It took more than two years, several Congressional hearings, the levying of a multi-billion dollar fine, countless PR missteps and Lord only knows how much Menlo Park navel gazing but Facebook has finally gotten out of the political ads business.

In true Facebook style of course, they aren’t saying they’re leaving. No, they’re just saying they won’t pay commission on political ads sales.

That has some naive reporters saying reaching into the archives to suggest that statements Facebook made last year still apply and that the company will continue to take political ads.

This is nonsense. Put another way: Would you ask your media buyer to do without their commission? Didn’t think so.

What’s really going on here? Well, Facebook is going back to the political business it should have stayed in, serving local campaigns on a self-service level. School board race? No problem. City council in a small or medium size city? Upload that creative!

But if you have a multi-state, multi-creative campaign with voter or demograhic targeting and need help or advice using and properly deploying the Instagram platform? You’re outta luck.

Why this move? Why now? Well, the numbers tell the story. Political ad sales were worth about $300 million for Facebook in 2018. But the fine they’re facing form the Federal Trade Commission for violating users’ privacy over the Cambridge Analytica scandal is put at $3 billion.

it’s not just Facebook that’s scaling back.

Google which is still active in the political ad arena but is operating with significant restrictions. The firm won’t take political ads for local races or ballot measures in Washington, Maryland, New Jersey and Nevada and has restricted the types of ads it will accept in New York.

Election officials in one of the states affected say that programmatic ad platforms are still running political ads so it’s not clear if Google is refusing ads directly – for YouTube and search – while allowing third-party ad platforms access to its display inventory.

If that’s the case – danger ahead – as platform buys can become subject to retroactive or late enforcement of the law. A platform buy might not be executed as ordered with only minimal or no notice at all.

Confusing? Not for Spot-On customers. We’re even rolling out a solution this fall. Our Pinpoint Placement platform is built on a database of more than 2700 local news sites across the country. They’re divided up by Congressional and state districts, searchable by zip code. We’ll offer automated direct buying, real time campaign reporting and a host of other features.

Want a seak peek demo? Send an email.

Lessons From 2018: Campaign Tactics Edition

Yes, we know, it’s 2020 for everyone in politics. But before we rise from our armchairs and really get down in the trenches, let’s take a few minutes to consider how political campaigns have changed.

The 2018 cycle was a watershed year for new online and digitally-based tactics that worked surprisingly well. We think last year will be seen one where campaigns became less hierarchical, more concentrated on field and direct outreach not on TV and, as a result, more diverse and ultimately less expensive.

Election Day Can Last A Month – or Longer

For those of us in California, this has been true for a while: You vote when you can, where you can, via the method that best suits you. Plenty of 2018 races weren’t decided until all the early ballots were counted – some weeks after the election.

Early voting in person, voting by mail and a new policy of mailing ballots to all registered voters, is making election day a process, not an event. Even New York state, long a hold-out on these matters, has changed its laws.

So last minute media spends, especially on TV, are becoming less effective. They’re talking to people who have already voted. Longer-range campaigns, over weeks and days are the new normal. That’s why we’re seeing more ‘flat’ campaigns that are less centered on paid TV and more on outreach and field. It takes time to build a digital message, especially with elections lasting for weeks, not a days.

Campaigns Became Less Hierarchical

The ultimate in flattened campaigns was certainly the Beto O’Rouke’s run against Sen. Ted Cruz. Ultimately unsuccessful – but by far less than anticipated – O’Rourke ran a campaign with several unique features.

He didn’t use seasoned campaign professionals. He didn’t rely on lists of known voters to man and support and donate to the campaign and he made person-to-person outreach – live and virtual – a cornerstone of his campaign. Oh, and he built a list of supporters in and outside of Texas that’s the envy of pretty much anyone running for president. Politico Magazine has a run-down of what O’Rourke’s folks did that’s well worth reading.

O’Rourke wasn’t the only one. The early forerunner here is New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who in shocking upset unseated Democrat Joe Crowley from a historically safe seat in The Bronx.

Like many early 2018 primacy candidates, Ocasio-Cortez used a combination of field and social media-enabled outreach to talk to voters in her district. She didn’t spend a lot of money on TV – she didn’t have it.

Instead, she had a compelling message and she used the communication technology that she believed was popular in her district to talk to voters. That theme and those techniques were repeated in “upset” after “upset” across the country as younger candidates used what they knew, not what they were told had “always worked”.

Can this work for a national race? Not all of it, certainly. But some – oh, yes.

Women Ran as People, Not Barbie Dolls. And They Won.

One of the most striking changes in 2018 were the candidates’ approaches to media and messaging – especially women.Women campaigned with babies on hips, mussed hair and no make-up, in jeans and flats, not power suits and sensible heels.

THIS is how how social media is changing politics. The re-imaging of candidates as people you see every day – in person and online – not unreachable icons beamed into your living room in a :30 with a deep baritone voice over to give them “credibility”. Instead of one TV ad that reaches millions, many candidates relied on quick Instagram or Facebook videos and photos with brief spur-of-the-moment insights and reactions that reach a few but then are multiple by sharing. Some are still at it.

The result: Less of an emphasis on blow-dry perfection, more on the personal and flawed approach. More fun. And yeah, a lot more dancing.

What’s it All Mean? Change, That’s What. And Lots More of It

What’s this mean? First off, campaigns are going to get a lot less expensive. In a lot of markets – New York, California, pretty much any swing state – television is just too expensive for many. Using digital media is cheaper and unlike TV, you can measure its effectiveness – in real time.

Digital media IS effective. Yeah, you’re right, no one’s going to run a presidential campaign with a freeform structure of volunteers coming and going as they wish. And Instagram ain’t gonna get anyone into the White House.

But, as the Trump campaign demonstrated in 2016, no one’s going to win with a TV-only air campaign constructed by a veteran consultant basing messaging on static polling and what “always works.”

Women can run with bad hair, big hips and funky dance steps. Outreach is an iPad and a volunteer with a great attitude and a willingness to work hard and learn. Polling comes from the insights recorded from door-to-door conversations with supporters and opponents.

Which means big-dollar media consultants and their targeted approach are in for a reckoning. In a very short period of time, the diversity of elected officials that the media finds so amazing may be more commonplace – on both sides of the aisle.

Want to learn more about Spot-On sees the evolving campaign environment? Follow us on Twitter where we offer regular updates, commentary and help navigating a dynamic and changing online marketplace.

We used to offer to connect with people on Facebook but no more. For starters, they’re looking at the wrong end of a variety of charges. And, well, we got disgusted with their business practices a while ago. It will take criminal indictments to make political movers and shakers turn totally away from Facebook. But, Spot-On figures that day will be here well before the 2020 elections.

Why Facebook

Usually in this space at this time of  year, Spot-On spends a few minutes to make predictions. But this year, we’re putting that aside. This mess with Facebook and political ads is too overwhelming.

And dangerous.

Let’s begin with a clarification: Facebook is a fantastic tool for elected officials to reach their constituents, particularly in small numbers and targeted groups. But Spot-On – and our clients (that’s you) is all about elections. We’re politics – that’s policy.

There’s a difference. An important one that you, dear reader, understand but Facebook clearly does not.

How’d this happen? Facebook had an aggressive outreach program for members of Congress showing them how to use its pages, how to post, how to put up pictures of their grandkids, how to ‘like’ and ‘share’. For Congress this was a gift: Finally, someone – Facebook! – had organized the Internet into something regular people – Congress! – could understand!

So when it came time to run for office it was only natural that Congress would treat Facebook like a TV channel. Buy a lot of ads and get re-elected! It worked, too. And that’s where the trouble started.

Like every other tech company, Facebook doesn’t see a difference between political ads and soda ads. Political is just another brand silo and it’s one that doesn’t really generated that much revenue. For Facebook, the more speech, the better, the more connections the better, the more ‘popular’ the post, the better. Because Facebook was envisioned by happy, content, well-off people as a happy place were we can all just get along by sharing and liking and coming  gracefully and joyously to seeing each others’ point of view.

So Facebook doesn’t know what to do when faced with critical or harsh political speech or opinions. Or with deliberate and organized fraud. Or with targeted ads designed to influence opinion in nefarious not-so-nice – but eminently shareable – ways. And more than two years after the 2016 election – which featured all of these things – the COMPANY STILL DOESN’T KNOW WHAT TO DO.

Just look at the past six months.

When Facebook instituted its political ‘registration’ process in May, it closed down a number of small campaigns. Babbling about transparency and willingness to prevent a repeat of 2016, the company approached known political buyers – like Spot-On – but didn’t know or care to approach smaller campaigns. Result: Campaigns with lots of dough could stay on the platform, the local races (school boards, small town city councils) got booted until they could meet the company’s ‘standards’ for buying ads.

At the same time, Facebook initiated an ad disclaimer requirement that’s different from most state and federal law. It also launched a ‘transparency effort’ that, if carefully reviewed, gives insights into campaign strategy and spending. Both corporate policies are in addition – and usually beyond – what’s required state or federal laws.

But even that process was a joke. Some of these requirements could be avoided if ads were purchased through a buying platform. In Alabama in 2017, a bunch of Democrats decided to imitate the nefarious tactics of 2016 during the special election that got Doug Jones elected to the U.S. Senate. They put up fake pages with fake messages to create dissension and influence turn out.

Finally, last month, the New York Times – in what should be a coup de grace for the company’s lax and myopic leadership – demonstrated what savvy media buyers have know for a while: Political ad review is not done in the U.S. It’s done in another country by people who know very little about laws governing speech and elections.

Spot-On got out of the Facebook ad buying business in 2016. We didn’t know what they were going to do but we were pretty sure it would be inept. But even after a lifetime in politics and 20-plus years in Silicon Valley we were not prepared for this combination of sheer ineptitude and cynical, PR-oriented half-measures and deliberate “mis-truths”.

So we have a question for anyone still using Facebook ads as the centerpiece of their campaign.


Why do Facebook’s contractors in the Philippines or India get to rule on what your political speech should look or sound like? Why does Facebook get to set financial disclosure laws that are different from what you state requires? Why does Facebook’s Instagram get to go beyond what government agencies require to create a sham disclaimer system? And above all: Why is political speech being controlled by a company that cares more about its shareholders than voters or citizens?

And why are you letting your candidates play along?

The Year Ahead: Same as It Never Was

Political people all talk about how this cycle – which by Spot-On’s estimates started sometime last year – is going to be different. For everyone.

We think that’s a safe bet. But we’d like to take this opportunity to throw some gasoline on that fire.


And yes, we’re yelling.

Unlike past years, this is the only prediction we’re making this year. Why? Because – looking at Silicon Valley as both experienced insiders and as political buyers – we see fear, trepidation and concern when it comes to political advertising. All of which will encourage companies to shy away from online political placements.

Here are some of the factors we’re looking and how they may change the political ad market.

First, let’s talk about the money. Political ad revenue for online soared to about $1 billion in 2016. Yes, that’s lots of dough – anywhere but in Silicon Valley. For Google and Facebook, it’s less than 1% of their combined total revenue. But it’s 100% of their bad PR.

Bad PR for many tech companies, especially those that are what’s known as consumer-facing (Snapchat, Spotify, Facebook, Pandora), often comes down to avoiding complaints about the ‘user experience.’ This is why they have rules about ad lengths and sizing that aren’t anything like what you’re used to with TV. Old school media – TV, print, radio – relies on geography to herd users. On the web, users come and go. You want them to stay around? They have to have a good experience – they have to really like you.

This reasoning is why a lot of online outlets flatly reject ‘negative’ political ads and it’s why more will start rejecting all political ads, especially those for candidates.

It’s also why Facebook is changing the priority it gives items that appear in its users’ feeds. Last week’s announcement about creating more “meaningful” experience for Facebook is code for giving users “more pleasant” experiences. And that means a lot less political engagement.

There’s more. The U.S. Congress is not happy with the state of the online ad business. Nor is the Federal Elections Commission or the Federal Trade Commission.

Their companies are varied and long. In three separate hearings before the U.S. Congress and Senate, tech executives did not acquit themselves well. Facebook managed to frustrate Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on the same day and almost in the same manner. As they say in Washington, that shows a rare and special talent.

What’s bugging Congress? It’s a long list. There are the fears about Russian interference and the concern that similar tactics can be deployed by U.S. campaigns agains their opponents (in the current environment, they can). There’s a general sense of unease created by the Equifax data breach which is feeding concerns about data tracking, data management and what Facebook and Google ‘know’ about users. There are concerns about the black-box nature of online ad buying.

Put another way: The folks who are represented by online advertising like what it does – reach voters – but they don’t trust the people who are selling it. So look for clients to start asking tough questions about where their ads are running and why.

Traditional news outlets see this as an opportunity. A few are thinking about taking political inventory off the automated buying exchanges, looking to use political as a way to bust what they describe as “The Duopoly” between Facebook and Google.

Oh, and then there’s the technical stuff. Safari’s new web browser doesn’t allow cookie tracking for ads. More folks use mobile – which doesn’t work with cookies – for their online interaction. And new rules in Europe are preventing the use of personal information without that users consent. So as much faith as you may have in voter file matching – well, you might want to find a new church.

What do do? Brace – really brace – for change. Don’t rely on last year’s experience and certainly don’t rely on anything that happened in 2016. In “Internet Years” that was a lifetime ago.

For more insights, have a look at Spot-On’s best practices white paper. Send us an email and we’ll send one over.

And if that’s not enough, you can follow us on Twitter or hang with us on Facebook where we offer regular updates, commentary and help navigating a dynamic and changing environment.

Why Russians Matter To Your Campaign

Let’s talk about Russians.

Let’s talk about the Russians and online ads and Facebook and what they may have done and what it means for the future of political online ad buying.. Because it’s important. And it’s going to matter to your campaign.

First, what happened? Well, start with the online ad campaign that Giles-Parscale ran for President Trump. In his public statements, Brad Parscale has been clear: He did what every brand advertiser does and took advantage of the power, reach and ubiquity of online to push ads out supporting Donald Trump’s candidacy.

When ads didn’t work – they didn’t lead people to the candidates site – they came down. When they did, they stayed up until they didn’t work. At one point, Giles-Parscale was reported to be running 60,000 different ads at one time.

That’s it. There may be some nuances in this account but they’re just that – nuances. At the end of the day the Trump online campaign boiled down to this: Use as much money as you need to buy as many ads as you can making sure those ads are performing as well as they can.

This is where the Russians come sneaking in. And this is probably why special counsel Robert Mueller is looking hard and long at ‘social’ media sites as he investigates the Trump campaigns connections to Russian attempt to influence the 2018 election.

The ad server data from the campaign described above – like ALL server data – would provide a valuable starting point for anyone wanting to use social media to boost – let’s call them nefarious ideas – about Hillary Clinton, the U.S. election process or pretty much anything else. And that data can be shared simply by giving someone a password and log-in. It’s done all the time on brand campaigns (and some political, too).

For instance, let’s say an ad touting President Trump’s support of the 2nd Amendment did really well in Nashville, TN. Someone – anyone – could use that information to start a Facebook group for Nashville residents to share their views on the 2nd Amendment. The group would get started by asking people who may have joined pro-Trump groups on Facebook to “like” or “share” news about the new 2nd Amendment group and its members.

This bad actor could join more groups as she found more people sharing her “interests” all the while pumping in links to (real or imagined) stories about Hillary Clinton’s anti-gun stance, and of course, layering on other claims as the election neared. Note, this has little to do – except for the very important data – with the online ad campaign. The two can run in parallel, not in concert.

So what does this mean? Well, in combination with a lot of bad feelings toward Facebook and Instagram on other fronts, it almost certainly means the end of self-service political ad buying. Either Congress or the FEC will put an end to automated buying.

What’s automated buying? It’s the way most political ads are bought. You have a DSP? You’re buying automatically. You have a vendor who buys Google display or search? That’s automated, too. And automated buying doesn’t have a lot of restrictions: No disclaimers, no substantiation, no standards and practices. All you need is a credit card and a web browser.

Along the way, we’re probably going to see some sort of standard setting online campaigns for disclosures – something that most local news outlets enforce and a practice Google and Facebook have been successfully putting off for years.

Why? Well, standard setting and review mean that both companies have to use humans to look at and evaluate ads. It also means both companies will need to decide what they will and won’t tolerate – and stick with it, consistently and without regard for political affiliation or message.

These are chores traditionally handled by – wait for it – media companies. And if there’s one thing Google and Facebook have sworn they are not, is media companies.

Why? Media companies employee people and Silicon Valley hates people. People are an overhead expense that breathes, not the kind that can run all night on a battery pack. People make mistakes . They’re also expensive – reducing that $450 million Facebook made on political to something like $350 million (still a fraction of a fraction of the $33 billion the company took in last year).

Automated buying can make a company money 24/7/365. But it has no sense of humor or ability to read a disclaimer and know it’s following the law. It may take a while – automated ad buying is hugely popular with a variety of political firms because it’s cheap and easy – but it’s time the political ad buying market matured. Because what the Russians can do today your opponent can do tomorrow.

Campaign tools: Digital media, geo-fencing — and more

This article appeared in Capitol Weekly.

For years, the Silicon Valley mantra was “The Internet changes everything.” These days it’s more accurate to say “The Internet is always changing.”

That’s why the conventional wisdom about online ad targeting and other digital means of finding voters can easily slip out of date. Things are always changing.

 For a few years, some vendors claimed to be able to match voter data to ad placements with a success rate of more than 60%.

That’s possible – but only if you’re running a national campaign that uses other demographic data to bolster voter information reaching millions of online ad viewers over a period of several months. With a potential audience below one million and a short time frame, matching is considered a huge success at 40% – and that rarely happens.

Why? Well, the Internet is good at compressing space and time. Anyone can buy a can of Coca Cola from anywhere at any time – as long as they have an Internet connection. Voting is restricted to specific places and times and only some people can participate. And if you take a look at how voter file matching to cookies and IP address actually works, you see the problems compound pretty quickly as accuracy degrades.

The “data” that any voter file vendor provides to a digital match service  is ALWAYS redacted. What’s removed is called “Personally Identify Information” or PII.

 What’s PII? Your name, your date-of-birth, your physical address, in some cases your phone numbers and email address. What’s left? Voting history and party affiliation.

Those two points – and only those – are used to buy “cookies” – a name for a computer code that tracks users’ online activity via web browsers. The cookies purchases are based on characteristics shared with other people who have similar voting history and party affiliation.  Those cookies are then matched to IP addresses against zip codes which further degrades the accuracy.

There’s loss at every point in the chain, especially when the PII is stripped out. More of a problem: cookies don’t work with mobile devices. And increasingly, mobile is the best way to reach voters.

So now we have a new silver bullet: “geo-fencing”  as a way to target voters. But that familiar term has taken on new and interesting definitions in the political sphere. Geo-fencing is NOT targeting ads to a specific Congressional District using IP addresses matched to zip codes. That’s a constant of any online buy. Geo-fencing is NOT recording a mobile device ID and tracking that phone to make a subsequent call to that user. That activity is illegal.

Geo-fencing IS the use of cell tower locations and mobile activity to reach a group of specific people at a particular time and location. It can be used to put your GOTV message up in a 1-mile radius of a polling place on election day. It can be used to “talk” to potential voters at rally or large event and secure their permission to contact them at a later date.

Even without the move to mobile, our firm, Spot-On, has seen plenty of evidence that tight targeting doesn’t work as well as it does with mail or even cable TV. Our firm regularly splits client’s online ad buys between those aimed at a specific district and the  larger area around the district.

Our clients have consistently seen little or no difference in engagement between tightly targeted ads (district only) and more general placements (citywide). And they’ve won.

Spot-On has had great success with and encourages clients to  use ‘rich’ media – audio, video, expanding ads, ads that take over a page for a set period of time – on local high-traffic news sites simulating a TV-like experience. Those sites are voter-rich: more than 60% of regular news readers are regular voters. Which is why rich media placements ALWAYS leads to higher engagements. They also bump up engagement rates for other less dramatic placements.

Rich media grabs the reader’s attention and sends them to a site where they learn more about a candidate or campaign. And that, at the end of the day, is the reason to buy an ad, isn’t it?

The long-standing emphasis in the political market on targeting is a legacy, a way to make sure that the large sums of money needed for mail, field, phone GOTV and TV weren’t wasted. And while many statewide and national campaigns can and should use voter targeting and matching, for most consultants and campaigns a broader online strategy combined with targeted mail and cable buys produces a 360-degree media buy that’s compelling and victorious.

Clarity Needed

It may seem hard to believe but all the talk about online ad fraud, transparency and accountability is – eventually – going to help clean up the political ad market. But first, we’re going to see some serious realignment.

Some has already started as established firms run for cover, getting bought by larger entities, taking on new roles with the infusion of an equity investment or working on building hope into their business models.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Last year’s winning digital firm – Giles-Parscale – doesn’t appear interested in becoming the big dog of Washington, D.C.-based online consulting. So there’s a vacuum – no one to buy out other firms, hire free-floating staff or generally shake things up.

Second, a lot of the promises made about targeting, online outreach and data weren’t realistic – and clients are catching on.

Partly they’re catching on because coverage of the mess that is ad tech for brands is getting news coverage and scrutiny.

Take this: Chase Bank, a huge online ad buyer discovered that fewer ads, placed on better quality sites worked better than lots of ads placed – oh, who knows where? Spot-On particularly liked this discovery; if you’ve ever heard us give advice about high-impact fixed placements you know we were ahead of the bank.

Or this example: The Guardian is suing Rubicon, an online ad placement exchange. Why? The website asked Rubicon to sell ads for them but the revenue doesn’t appear to have ended up in The Guardian’s wallet. Instead there were mysterious “fees.”

How about this? The head of P&G – you know the guys who spend millions promoting consumer goods like Tide and Crest – says online advertising needs to clean up it’s act.

Much of this is frustration: Advertisers AND publisher are tied of Google dominance of the ad marketplace and they see these problems as way to assert their long-treasured and much-eroded control over placement and pricing. They’re also sick of cavalier re-sellers who promise quality advertisers and placements but end up placing junk that turns readers away or, worse, offends them.

Although very few political shops are willing to admit it, much of the online inventory they secure is little more than resold Google ad placements, much of it less valuable than clients are told That’s the real reason resellers are struggling.

What to do? Spot-On has a number of suggestions but the main one is to plan your online ad buy they way you would any other aspect of the campaign. Start early, think about integration with mail and field and collect your own data and metrics. That will tell you what placements work, which should be avoided and how voters read your candidate, cause and messaging.

Help is on the way – a saner online ad market will emerge from all this wailing and finger-pointing. But it’s going to be a bit of a rough ride.

If you need further help, get a copy of Spot-On’s Best Practices White Paper, a 10-step guide for navigating the political marketplace. It’s free! Just drop us a note and we’ll send one over – pronto.

The Year Ahead: Seat Belts Required

The great Bette Davis summed it up nicely. Fasten those seat belts, kids, 2017 IS going to be a bumpy ride. But probably not for all of the reasons you might expect.

Here at Spot-On we focus on tactics and mechanics. So our year ahead projections – like this pretty good one from last year – look at the stuff no one says they care about. Or, perhaps more accurately, the stuff no one cares about until it breaks.

A lot broke in 2016. So, without further ado, here are Spot-On’s predictions for 2017, the year ahead.

Hacking is real and it can happen to you. Yeah, we know, this Russia-DNC stuff sounds like a wacky spy thriller. But when President-elect Trump said that “a 14 year old” could hack John Podesta’s email he wasn’t entirely wrong. Hacking programs that ‘phish’ for passwords and log-ins are easily acquired and the “social hacking” – that’s when a pissed-off former staffer gives your log-ins to your opponent  – is almost certain to come to political campaigns this year.

Footnote: Change your passwords regularly – especially if you fire people. Make sure your office wifi routers have firewalls. Deploy two-step authorizations for log-ins. And, don’t assume your vendor is keeping you safe.

Hacking’s cousin, ad fraud, is here to stay. The brand advertising world went into a meltdown before Christmas over the news that a sophisticated group of professional hackers had robbed them blind. This was not a bunch of 14 year-old script kiddies up for a little afternoon fun. No, this was a organized effort – a business – that falsified Internet Protocol address to create ad views that well, weren’t.

Footnote: “IP Addresses”  are mistakenly beloved because some people think they’re static like a small mail address. They aren’t. And a ‘cookie’ generated by a voter list and sent to a fake address is still an ad no one saw.

Firms you know and love will go away. Lots of ad and other tech firms got into political in 2016. Most will go away. Some will disappear as they get bought as the fall-out from ad fraud continues. Some will disappear because they don’t understand ‘off’ years. And some will just evaporate because the $1b they thought they’d get just for showing up in 2016 didn’t land in their pockets.

Footnote: Spot-On doesn’t care who was in political in 2016. It’s the folks who are here with us in 2017 we care about.

Polling isn’t dead. It’s just resting. Well, polling as we knew it is dead. What’s going to take it’s place? Best bet: rolling your own “data.” What does that mean? Using firms that canvas, measure and look at your specific campaign audience before you do your media buys and messaging instead of relying on off-the-shelf historic data that predicts what’s clearly no longer as predictable as it once was.

Footnote: You know that financial firm warning: “Past performance is not an indication of future returns”? ALL political campaigns need to adopt that mantra.

Help is on the way. Confused? Worried? Dissatisfied? Don’t be. Spot-On’s (free) best practices white paper – our version of a seat belt – will be released (for free) at the end of January with fanfare, confetti and a lot of bragging and no price tag. Want to reserve your copy?  Send us an email and we’ll get you on the list (really, no charge).

And if that’s not soon enough, you can follow us on Twitter or hang with us on Facebook where we offer regular updates and comments and “told you so’s”.

Cleaning Up

There’s a lot to be said about the 2016 election and it will take a long time for everyone to say it. So let us get our U.S. 2 cents in now.

In our yearly predictions, Spot-On said this would be the year that “Pollsters really get kicked around.” We also suggested there would be data breaches as well as an increasing reliance on ineffective ad network buys.

Okay, so we’re showing off. Most of what we predicted has happened. The NYTimes even said so (see if you can spot the familiar faces in the mood-setting art shot….). 

Predictions are nice; facts are better. So just before the election, Spot-On ran a formal survey to see what trends are out there – for us and for our customers. The survey ran in September and October and the results are pretty interesting.

One surprise: Digital familiarity, comfort and expertise isn’t party affiliated. It breaks down by age. Older consultants don’t “get it” so they either don’t buy or leave decisions about online to their TV buyers.  Younger ones “get it” but are willing to hand off strategy to middle-men. Either way, Spot-On sees room for improvement.

Another key finding: Spending for digital really was up this year. More than 60% of the folks who took the survey said they’ve either kept budgets the same or increased them – some as much as 25%.

We promised a case of wine to folks to randomly selected survey participants. Winners are Andrew Meyers over at Amplified Strategies in Seattle. And Gordon Luckman, a consultant in Brooklyn. How’d we make the selections: Jersey numbers of baseball team pitchers, in this case Cal Ripkin (How ’bout them O’s, hon?) and Madison Bumgarner (Go Giants!).

Our final conclusions on all this will be released early next year as a “Best Practices” white paper. Want a copy? Send us an email and we’ll save you one.

In the meantime – look, you can take the girl out of the newsroom but you can’t take the newsroom out of the girl – Spot-On Founder Chris Nolan has been talking and writing.

Last week, she had a piece in AdWeek talking about the need for clearer standards for digital advertising. If your campaign’s run into this sort of static – arbitrary creative requests, bans on certain kinds of speech – give us a call to discuss what happened. We’re gearing up for some frank talks with publishers earlier next year.

The AdWeek piece was preceded by some comments Nolan made to Campaigns & Elections magazine about ad fraud and how easy it is for unscrupulous vendors to take advantage of political buyers.

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