Spotlight Blog

Separate, Maybe More Equal

The time has come for political advertisers to demand different treatment in the digital buying space. In the analog world, political campaigns enjoy special treatment that brand advertisers don’t. TV stations set political rates for candidate ads. Election-oriented mail is red tagged by the post office. But in the digital arena, political is just another brand silo – and an intermittent one at that. So all the problems that have plagued automated programmatic ad buying – fraud, black box placement, misuse of targeting data, malicious and underhanded behavior – also affect political sales. Now, before we dive into why political needs its own digital marketplace, let’s state the obvious: There are two kinds of political campaigns. Presidential and everything else. Presidential campaigns are the types of ad campaigns that digital ad platforms understand because they are like brand campaigns. They represent millions of dollars in spending; they occur in a
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Waste Not….

There may be no better indication of the rising cost of digital advertising than a little missive Google sent out earlier this month to its ad buying customers. In a number of countries that are taxing digital ad placements, the big ad firm will be adding surcharges to cover those increases. Sounds pretty standard, huh? Lots of things are taxed. Yes, but things that are taxed are generally money-makers. Governments may be stodgy, hind bound and in love with their own red tape but like everyone else, they know how to follow the money. These days, digital ad sales is a big business and the tax man wants a taste. Google’s tax dilemma underscores a reality: the super cheap CPM (cost per 1,0000) is fading into history. All Spot-On can say is “Good Riddance.” One of the dumber ideas floated for political campaigns was the notion that search advertising offered
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When The Circus Left Town

Looks like Google’s first attempt to shut down the circus known as “ad tech” was more clown car than Big Top. After months of saying that cookie-based ad targeting – used to support voter file matching – was going away, the tech giant pushed that transition back by almost two years. Google’s substitute, something called a “Federated Learning of Cohort,” will not be implemented until late 2023 – if then. It’s not often that a big company reverses a much-ballyhooed announcement, creating a dramatic and irreversible change in its primary marketplace. But that’s what Google has done with its announcement that it will continue to allow so-called cookie-based ad targeting through 2023. This has absolutely nothing to do with the political ad market. Its collective worth – maybe – $2 billion – is not enough money for anyone outside of Google’s DC-based political sales team to worry about. But, there
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The Wonderful World of Colorful Data

It’s late. It’s likely to be questioned for the next 9.5 years but – finally – the 2020 U.S. Census data is getting kicked out for review and analysis. The re-allocation of Congressional districts got the headline but lots of folks are digging around on more granular data. The results are interesting. The tables and charts filed on the Census website under the very sexy title “Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2020” were the first to get this treatment by the Washington Post which summarized the findings for us English majors. Here are some highlights: Under 30’s voted in larger numbers than ever. Participation in the 18-29 cohort is up to 2008 (Obama) levels. This is looking like a trend. Asian Americans turned out big-time. This was a spike, hard to know if it’s a trend. African-American turn-out was highest in ‘swing’ states and up overall from
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It’s So Cool, It’s Private

Wanna be seen as a kewl kid in the online ad world? Use the word ‘privacy’ in a sentence when you’re talking about online advertising. It’s getting to the point where it’s hard to tell which of the massive platforms which depend on mining of user data is now – suddenly – the most concerned about user welfare. And that’s without questioning the sincerity of those concerns. All this jockeying has an impact on political ad sales because – rightly or wrongly – using commercially available data to target voters rests on the privacy-violating tools that the platforms have been using for the past 15 years. There’s also a little bit of posturing going on here in anticipation of government regulation of the tech world. Appearing to care about users – known as consumers in the antitrust world – helps big tech companies argue that they’re not all that bad.
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The Cookie Crumbles

Silicon Valley has a saying: Live by the platform, die by the platform. Translation: If your business relies on anyone else to exist then your livelihood is subject to the whims of that provider, which can change at any time. Their business is more important to them then yours. So, when Google – the Mississippi River of ad tech – dams up a major tributary saying it will no longer support online data tracking, colloquially known as “cookies” a lot of companies are going underwater. Starting in 2022, firms used by political campaigns to find and identify voters (data brokers like LiveRamp, BlueKai) and ad exchanges which resell Google’s ad inventory (Trade Desk, A4) to the highest bidder will face dramatic changes in how they do business. Some may not survive. Says Google: “People shouldn’t have to accept being tracked across the web in order to get the benefits of
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Holy Cow!

Spot-On normally uses the first newsletter of the year to reflect on the last and look ahead. This year we feel it necessary to start by channeling the late great Yankee shortstop (and poet) Phil Rizzuto. Holy Cow! There’s a lot more we could say – but none of it is printable. A lot of things changed last year and some of those changes are going to keep rolling through this year. We don’t pretend to know the end game here; too much is still unresolved and incomplete. So rather than our usual predictions, we’re going to go with some observations that we hope are helpful. We Are All Georgia Now that it’s won big and won in the clutch, it looks like the Stacey Abrams approach to voter outreach is here to stay.  This could mean real battles in Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania and – this year – in Virginia
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The Maddening Crowd

It’s going to take a while for the professional political class to digest the 2020 election. Trends that popped up and were dismissed in 2016 came roaring back. And there was plenty of new stuff. One thing is clear, however. Like 2016, the 2020 election brought a lot of new voters to the polls. And many of them didn’t fit neatly into predictable categories. So, once again, it was harder for pollsters and their handmaidens in the political press corps to make sweeping generalizations. Bummer, huh? This newsletter is written by a former political reporter so we aren’t going to shy away from sweeping generalizations about the role that digital outreach played in the 2020 election. Old habits die hard. New York Times columnist Kevin Roose, who is more of a tech guy than a political guy, had a must-read write-up of how the Biden campaign used digital outreach. There
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Putting Things in Context

It’s gotten a fancy high-tech name now but the old fashion technique that political ad buyers have relied on – buying ads where they think they’ll find voters – is coming back with a vengeance. This time around it’s called “contextual targeting.” Which means that advertisers run ads where they’ll reach people who care about the things related to the ad messaging. You know, like buying local TV news during an election! The main driver behind this back to the future renaming is a series of actions that may well come to be called the “online privacy wars,” a fight among web browsers to see who’s best at reassuring customers all the while throwing shade on Google and Facebook. Here’s Apple’s opening salvo off a page from Hearst’s SFGate website. The SFGate page has 27 trackers, according to Apple. Some of which are companies that have almost nothing to do
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You Are Not Alone

This newsletter, coming to you at the beginning of the earnest and chaotic political buying cycle, comes with some good news. You are not alone. A recent survey by Centro, a Chicago and Toronto-based programmatic ad buying firm, says that political ad buyers are worried about a range of issues facing this political year. The know there are landmines out there, they’re just not sure when they’re going to go off. To which Spot-On says, “d’uh”. Regular readers know most of this but to re-cap (and kinda humble brag) here are the results with links to our earlier newsletters on the topics. Worried about changes platforms have made for political ads (81% say this is a big problem) and corresponding concerns about the ability to target voters on the minds of most buyers (66%). Getting clients to pay attention to digital (64%) or increase budgets (55%). Covid-19 as a distraction
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