Spotlight Blog

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.

Elections are over. But we’ve got work to do. Want to keep  up with what we’re up to? Follow us on Twitter or hang with us on Facebook where we offer regular updates and comments.

 

 

A Gentle Reminder

A few weeks ago, Spot-On wrote and asked you to help us survey the online ad market for political.

We’re back this week repeating that request. We know you’re slammed. But when it comes to asking you what you’re thinking about media, advertising and your campaigns, there is no better time for experts like you to give us your valuable opinions.

It’s top of your mind.

Here at Spot-On, we’d like to start a realistic conversation about what online can do – and what it can’t. Want to know how bad we think it is? Read here what Spot-On Founder Chris Nolan had to say to Campaigns & Elections. Or check out this story on video ad fraud.

To do that – do it honestly, do it with intelligence – to be the most helpful to you and your campaigns in the years ahead we need to know what you think. Because there’s one thing for sure: You know more than we do.

Let’s be clear: This is not an attempt to data mine, to embarrass any one group of people or any party. It is pure research. We’re collecting information anonymously and we’ll keep it that way.

The survey closes on 10/30. We promised a case of wine to a randomly selected winner by election day. To make deadline, we’ll need to close responses by then.

Plenty of time. So click here. Tell us what you think. Make your next online campaign one that’s got impact and accountability – so winning will be that much easier.

Thank you. We appreciate your valuable time.

Clip Service: News for Busy People

You’ve been busy launching campaigns. We’ve been busy helping you build online ad plans. Now it’s time to get on that con-call and talk about it. Or listen. Lots of listening.

To pass the time, Spot-On is here with some light reading. You know, while you’re listening. This is our list of recent and interesting stories that may well affect the political ad space.

We begin with an earlier theme, the pivot to mobile. Google’s started with some tweaks to ad design. Facebook followed by announcing the shut down of a popular desktop ad buying platform,

Then there are some “long reads” on how the digital ad market is going to change. Here’s a look at TV and online and here’s something on Verizon (mobile company!) and it’s approach to fly-over country. Both have implications for the way we’re doing business today.

There’s the bureaucratic policy stuff. Sounds a little boring. It’s not.

The double-whammy from the Federal Communications Commissions telling large carriers like Comcast and AT&T that they can’t sell users’ data and opening up set-top boxes to CES and computer company vendors has implications for how advertising data is recorded, sold and packaged. In short, Neilsen and Strata do not own the future.

And some think the FCC is just getting started on how it might regulate and oversee the online world.

Underscoring those trends: Time Warner just bought a slice of Hulu. That’s the beginning,  not the end, of these old-new media mergers. Also worth noting: one of the biggest media fights of the convention was over the use of feeds for streaming services.

On the online front: The FTC’s been asked to look at ad fraud. In short, the future won’t belong to one-stop banner ad shops. Put another way: Silicon Valley sales guys aren’t exactly trustworthy as one of them freely confesses. 

But here’s something that will make you smile. That Chewbacca lady? She knows how to make a good online political ad. She’s warm. She’s personal. She’s friendly. This approachable approach is ideal for the one-to-one nature of online. Especially when it’s on mobile.

Want to get your con-call entertainment on a more regular basis? Follow us on Twitter or hang with us on Facebook.

 

Changing Times (Again)

Every once in a while Spot-On likes to get a little high minded. And no, we are not inhaling.

We are instead contemplating trends worth noting for our customers. Here’s the first one, you might say the only one that matters: There are as many smart phones in the country as there are TV sets. And those phones – and we’re talking about iPads and tablets as well – can show good-quality video. Even without video, some mobile apps see audiences that rival in size those for TV shows.

That’s sparked two changes. One, cookies – those pieces of code used to identify characteristics associated with a group of individuals – aren’t as effective. Two, the rise of ad blocking software.

It is Spot-On’s high-minded opinion that ad-blocking software is less of an issue with folks looking at news and information sites – the best places to find voters. Blockers are most popular among folks who use phones for games, particularly younger men.

But there are other follow-on effects to the increase in mobile usage and audience size. Here are a few.

First, traditional news publisher see increased use of mobile as a way to reset their pricing and ad packaging.  They’re changing ad formats, creating new, richer ad units and generally being a bit more aggressive about how they sell – especially since on mobile they’re seeing no weekend drop-offs, common with desktop displays.

So prices for online ads are heading up. Not dramatically but the days of the effective $5,000 ad buy are gone.

This all comes as junk sites are getting the boot from pretty much everyone. The ad tech business – the backbone of what we and others do – is experiencing what people in our expanded hometown of Silicon Valley like to call a “flight to quality”. Translation: “People who sell junk are going out of business.”

This “flight” comes from the pressure brand advertisers like Coke and Toyota are putting on online ads to start performing. To keep their customers happy, reputable ad exchanges are pushing poor performing sites – sites they suspect are buying traffic, sites that deploy bots instead of showing ads to people – to the bottom of the barrel.

Bowing to pressure from brands, ad networks and exchanges are looking instead at measurements like ‘vieawability’. They’re monitoring sites to see if real people come by. There’s some talk about better monitoring ads, too. And there’s a lot of cranky behavior between advertisers and outlets about metrics

Meanwhile, over at the big websites and media outlets, there’s talk about new forms of advertising, new ways to show ads to readers and viewers that are not standard banners or little cubes with video pre-roll in them. These are more expensive formats that mimic the planning and consideration that goes into a TV ad. 

In short – and just in time for a presidential election – much of what political advertisers have been taking for granted is changing. And it will change again as ad tech companies merge, new ad formats are rolled out and publishers keep pushing to take control of their advertising.

Luckily, the brunt of that will be in the off-year. So look for even MORE change in 2018. Don’t worry, fearless readers, we’ll keep you up-to-date.

Want our read on breaking news? Follow us on Twitter. Or you can hang with us on Facebook. For those of you who like the more personal touch, Spot-On’s founder Chris Nolan will be part of a panel “How is Paid Media Adjusting to the New Normal?”  at the American Association of Political Consultants Los Angeles Regional Conference on June 14. Come join us!

Clip Service: News for Busy People

The optimists here at Team Spot-On like to point out that this is the first year since 2004 – that’s 12 long years – where political spending hasn’t been hampered by a real or feared economic recession. Which probably explains why everyone is busy, earlier and faster than some anticipated.

Not a lot of time for newsletters! But there are still events and trends that affects the political ad markets. So this election year, Spot-On will revive our short and sweet “Clip Service: News for Busy People” pointer to things we think are important as you and your clients move through the year. You hipsters can think of it as ICYMI.

First up this month, our two favorites: data and ad targeting.

– The FCC is talking about letting cable TV customers buy their set-top box either from independent vendors or the cable companies. Why is that important? It will cut down on the type of data that cable companies can collect – and use to direct ads – about customers. If you place a lot of faith in the growth of “addressable” set-tops for ad targeting this is bad news.

– The discussions and disagreements about the use of voter data are a little quieter as we move into Spring but they’re not going away. The LATimes took a look at what campaigns know (but not, unfortunately HOW they know it). This is important if you place a lot of “targeted” online ads. Our bet? It’s not the data that’s under attack it’s the sale of that data that’s the problem.

– As a companion to that idea – data is the backbone of ad targeting – here’s a look at why advertisers – NOT online news publishers – should take MORE control of where ads appear. If you’re online ad budget relies heavily on any sort of automated buying, this is an early warning that things are changing. The author makes a good point – one that will appeal to political folks – but our bet is that the growth of walled gardens with more supervision over advertisers is growing.

These are the most recent highlights for issues and trends we think are worth noting. If you’d like to see what we think on a more timely basis, follow us on Twitter. Or hang with us on Facebook.

And, of course, we’re always happy to talk online trends and strategies. Just give us a shout.

Spot-On Ad Predicts….2016 Edition

First, of course, accept our best wishes for a happy  – and winning – New Year.

Last year, Spot-On got some nice notices on our predictions for 2015 – a win! So here’s our take on what political consultants, media buyers and campaigns ought to be looking for in 2016.

– Data breaches. We’ve seen three minor squabbles over data. For our money, this piece is the best look at the back-and-forth between Democrats over models, predicting and software patches. But there’s also the more interesting leak of a national database of name and voting histories possibly by NationBuilder. And the very interesting Cruz campaign voter profiling.

These sorts of leaks and misuses are going to happen again. And again. And eventually the breach isn’t going to be voter info but donor info – and credit cards . Because if it can happen to the IRS, it can happen to your campaign.

– TV stays big, becomes even less effective. Spot-On’s been saying this for years; the rest of the political world is catching up. Our bet is that 2016 is the year that everyone finally starts to believe that television isn’t what it used to be when it comes to finding and reaching voters. Don’t worry, that’ll be after the money’s spent.

– Pollsters really get kicked around. Reliance on TV goes hand in hand with  reliance on pollsters. Just ask David Cameron, Benjamin Netanyahu, Karl Rove and Rahm Emanuel. The old “Buy 2,000 GRPs, move the numbers X%” is broken. This probably isn’t the year that pollsters get completely disintermediated. But it’s the year that going to show some geeky data types how to do just that. And no, online surveys aren’t going to be the answer.

– Going against this trend: The use of early online “message validation” campaigns to create the sort of testing that big campaigns do routinely. Message validation can be scaled to pretty much any budget, saving money on all ad placements, including mail and TV. In the right hands, it’s a powerful tool.

Ad networks will become less effective. A number of publishers have pulled automatic or “programmatic” access to their inventory for political and advocacy use. Spot-On has always believed that direct buying is a better deal for campaigns because it’s safer, more secure and more reliable. If you ad network buy can’t get the local outlets you want – and in three big media markets it’s a lot harder this year than it was last – give us a call.

Want more timely takes on the day’s advertising and political tech world news and events? Follow us on Twitter or come hang out with us on Facebook.

Doing The Time Warp. Again.

Political folks take a certain amount of justifiable pride in dismissing shiny toys in favor of techniques that attract, motivate and engage voters.

That has always made good sense. Voters follow, they don’t lead. But it’s beginning to feel like campaigns could miss out on the power of digital, especially if they rely entirely on programmatic ad networks.  By sticking to what they think “works” for 2016, political folks will rely on techniques that don’t reach voters.

Over the past few weeks, there’s been a lot of conversation about ad blocking software that keeps ads from displaying. It’s a feature in new versions of some web browsers and there are specific blocking apps for mobile devices.

Ad blocking, as many have pointed out, is a symptom of an automated system run amuck, a diagnosis that has the Internet Advertising Bureau calling for all kinds of reforms. If you’ve ever struggled with a slow-loading site on a mobile phone only to see the stuff you want to look at jerked around by ad windows, you know the problem.

Next up – and related – are conversations about online ad fraud. The most recent estimate is that 11% of banners and 23% of video – that’s pre-roll – much loved by political folks – bought on networks is not seen by actual readers. Ads are appearing on sites deliberately designed to run without being seen by humans or set up simply to record automated and self-generated “bot” views to name just two of the more obvious ploys (the list of devious ideas goes on and on….)

Voter matching to run targeted ads does NOT resolve this problem. Matching does NOT find specific voters; it finds people like those voters on ad networks. All ad networks have problems with fraud.

So, what are the solutions?

We outlined some in this newsletter and post a few months back on “viewability”. That advice – get server access, ask for site lists, monitor click-through rates – still holds. Spot-On also suggests a mixed ad buy: Direct placement, which has less fraud and higher viewability, in concert with closely monitored programmatic.

This advice is given with an eye toward changes in the online market, especially the rise of online newsstands. Apple has “Newstand”, Facebook has “Instant Articles”. Google’s got AMP. These are cleaner versions of editorial designed to load fast with minimal but attractive ad placements.

Increasingly, publishers are beginning to take certain kinds of inventory off their network/programmatic platforms to ensure their value. Even Google has pulled open access to YouTube, an attempt to increase its ad rates and protect its increasily valuable – and popular – home-grown talent.

Spot-On has always bought direct and we’re more than happy to talk about how online can be used it more effectively and efficiently. Just give us a shout. And you can also follow us on Twitter or hang out with us on Facebook

Dividing Digital

It’s time to divide up “digital”, the catch-all phrase many campaigns use to describe things that aren’t mail or TV.

Why split up all that computer stuff? Well, because the idea of a “digital” budget is misleading. It groups very different tasks – tasks that are normally separated – in one big sloppy bucket.

Ad buys, field, fundraising, messaging and scheduling are separate tasks IRL*, they should be online as well.

Digital campaign and advocacy budgets usually start with money for the construction and maintenance of the campaign website. These days, that’s expanded to include Facebook, the Twitter feed, fundraising email and online ad buying.

Often these activities are managed by people who have “digital” credentials – they can code, perhaps, or they’ve got a strong Twitter following and good vendor relationships from prior campaigns. But the same folks who are good at outreach or website builds may not have a lot of experience with fundraising, earned media management or ad placements.

Since every “digital” activity has a offline corollary we can take a look at where digital activity might fit.

Twitter and Facebook are more “earned” media than paid for political and advocacy. Yes, yes, they take ads – and you should buy them. But the power of those ads is in the combined, dual feed approach. Which means you may be better off with those activities run by the press folks not media buyers.

One of the best way to raise money is a combination of email, search and Facebook ads. Fundraisers know how to bring money in the door; online tools only expand their reach – and they should be writing the emails and approving the Facebook ads.

Ad buys need to be in the hands of people who know online media – not just video pre-roll, but the whole range of options. The online ad world is changing before our eyes – more mobile, less desktop, new tech specs, new sizing. It’s great if a campaign has someone who understands the ad network world. But those network have limits – limits that weren’t in place during the last election cycle.

Our advice? Don’t think about digital as a separate department that sits in a corner. Instead, incorporate online communications tools – the best ones for the task at hand – as they’re needed.

Spot-On is always happy to talk more about online and how our clients can use it more effectively and efficiently. Want to know more? Just give us a shout

You can also follow us on Twitter or hang out with us on Facebook.

*IRL: In Real Life, geek speak for what we do without computers.

To See or Not To See…..

Viewability. Silly made-up word. Important concept.

Viewability” is the shorthand that ad agencies and ad tech outfits are using to discuss a big problem: Many of the ads that run online aren’t seen.

There are a number of reasons for this. Since a lot of online advertising is bought by computers talking to computers on automated bidding platforms, there’s no one point of sale. So there’s no nice person to make sure your reel or your flat gets to production with tender loving care. Instead, there are racks of machines plugging your ads into blank spaces appearing on website across the Internet at a speed so fast you can’t see it happen.

Some of those spaces are seen by real people sitting in front of laptops or looking at a phone or tablet. Some are not. Why not? Here are just a few reasons:

– The ad placements are “below the fold” – they appear far down on the web page where readers often don’t go. When this happens, an ad is registered as “seen” but not actually viewed.

– Some ads are seen by computers crawling websites looking for data (sometimes called “spiders“). Again, an ad is registered as “seen” because a computer calls it up.

Outright fraud: Ad impressions are dumped outside your target market by unscrupulous networks looking to fill an order. Technology, sadly, does not change human nature.

– Increasingly, readers are deploying blocking technology to screen out ads.

Viewability is a big problem for political for the most obvious of reasons: Campaigns have little time and fewer resources than large advertisers with year-long campaigns and billion dollar marketing budgets. And since most political advertising is still bought via network buys it’s particularly vulnerable.

What to do? Political campaigns can follow the lead of large advertisers in a few ways.

– Put a portion of your online budget into direct buys so you know where you ads are going. Here at Spot-On we buy direct and we insist that all our placements are “above the fold”.

– Set aside a portion of your budget for “rich” media placements. These high-impact ads can’t be resold the way banners ads are and they can be animated to run your TV spots.

– Monitor your network buy. Instead of sending your creative directly to your ad network, have it trafficked and managed by a media buyer who can give you “viewabilty” statistic. Spot-On’s buys regularly see 90% plus viewabilty for direct buys and rich media; in the low 70% for our ad networks.

– Ask for server access. Ad servers register performance every day – or every hour – ask your media buyer to give you a log-in so you can look for yourself. Spot-On provides access for all clients on demand and any reputable ad network should be happy to let you learn more about your buy.

Spot-On News Clips: Ad Trends For Busy People

Old habits die hard. Spend 20-some years in a newsroom and, well, you have to read the wires first thing every morning. Because you like it. We like to share, too. So here’s a short list of interesting items that have come across our screen the past few weeks.

First up: The New York Times piece on the failings, past, present and anticipated in political polling.

What’s interesting about this piece is what’s NOT being suggested, namely that the work that pollsters to may be taken over by, um, algorithms, those little mathematical formulas used to predict human behavior. Something like this is already happening at the national level – ask Jim Messina – but smaller campaigns who are going to have trouble.

Related, much longer, and well, probably not as easy read (but almost certainly worth it): Bloomberg Business Week’s one-theme issue on computer code. That’s right. The only story in the magazine is about the importance, use and place that “code” has in our culture and our business lives. We’re not pointing you to this lightly but if you don’t want to read the whole thing, Charlie Rose interviewed the writer and his editor.

Now, for the breaking news.

There’s a steady drumbeat about how dollars spent for television ad buys are falling and dollars for online ad buys are rising. There’s this from Broadcasting and Cable. And this from ad agency called – irony! – Zenith and this from another ad consulting shop. And a little naval-gazing from inside-the-Beltway about Facebook’s ability to target with some predictions about TV.

But enough about  TV, let’s talk online. Google is worried enough about ad fraud, they’re dispatching a special team. And the National Journal talks about 2016 ads being sold out. That last one is no joke just a bit of overstatement. Lastly, here’s a look at a trend for mobile ad placement: 60-40/mobile-desktop. If you’ve done business with Spot-On in the past couple of months, you know this is our standing recommendation.

If you follow us on Twitter, most of these links aren’t news.  And you hang with Spot-On on Facebook you’ve probably seen them as well. Feel free to join us there for more regular kibitzing.

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