Spotlight Blog

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.

The Pre-Roll Fad

We know, old habits die hard. Especially when you can cut the line.

Because they’re used to a world of red-tagged mail and election window pricing for TV, some political folks don’t worry about placing online ads until after Labor Day.

But the Internet changes everything. Online ads can and do sell out as The National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher explains.

Now, he’s talking mostly about one specific kind of ad: Video pre-roll for 2016. And video pre-roll has benefits – it looks like TV so it’s a comfortable transition to online. But it also has limits.

The biggest limit: Many online videos are never seen.

The good folks at Google recently said that 46% of video pre-roll is NOT viewed by a live human. Now, The Google is out to boost ad buys on its YouTube channel so they’ve got a dog in the fight. But they are also the premier ad delivery servicee. Everyone – yup, even us – uses Google’s DoubleClick to serve ads and monitor performance.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this.

Last year, the New York Times ran a story saying that some video pre-roll was never seen.

And we can’t say this often enough: Using voter roll or demographic targeting for your pre-roll distribution doesn’t guarantee it will be seen. Regardless of vendor, of matching partners or technology, those pre-roll ad buys run on the same delivery and buying networks that The Times and Google are monitoring.

Team Spot-On takes a different view of this pre-roll fad. It’s a fad, for starters. Too many people are buying the same stuff for the same reason which triples prices immediate before an election – after Labor Day. So a gang of people are bidding against each other, paying top dollar for ads placements that, well, disappear. Like Beanie Babies, it can’t last.

There are alternatives: Rich media placements that have in-banner video or animation; roadblocks that carry a message for 24 hours, fixed on local news pages, above-the-fold ads bought directly from outlets and monitored daily. All are good, sound alternatives to pre-roll. And many are far less expensive.

More importantly, they’re seen.

What’s all this mean? Well, plan ahead – further ahead than you may have thought necessary in previous elections. Even if you want a lot of pre-roll buy early and save money.

We’re always happy to chat more about buying strategies and way to make your campaign dollar go further. Give us a shout.

Television’s Cracked Screen

We admit it. Spot-On is a little hung up on the TV business.

Last year we probably – oh, let’s not mince words, we definitely – spent a little too much time saying that Aero, the now defunct service that put a TV signal on your laptop, was more of a threat than it turned out to be. But our sense about changes in the TV business wasn’t misplaced. Even with Aero out of business, it’s crystal clear that television viewership just isn’t what it used to be.

If you’re in the political ad business, it’s probably worth paying attention to these fights:

– Late last year, TV executives and ad agencies started arguing about getting paid for recorded TV shows. Why? TV people don’t think they’re getting paid enough.

– This year at the big confab held every year in LA by researchers – the folks who set ad rates and look at audience measurement – broadcasters conceded that they’re loosing ground – fast.

– Netflix gets much of the blame for the decline in TV watching. But that’s not the only contributor. 60% of all US households have a recording device. And 60% of the folks with those devices fast-forward through ads. Translation: Less than half the ads on television are seen live.

Speaking of Netfflix, it just reported earnings. There are about 40 million Netflix subscribers in the U.S. There are just about 115 million television households. No, we won’t tell anyone if you go buy the stock. Promise.

For those of you who like what Silicon Valley calls a “deep dive”, here’s a very long piece from the New Yorker about Reed Hasting, CEO of Netflix which has some statistics on television ad buying from late last year. It offers up roughly the same stats: 60% of all television ads aren’t seen. Ever.

Which all adds up to this piece from The Washington Post’s Dan Balz about how political ad placements needs to change.

And by way of background, we are compelled to cite this prescient 2013 column from the late NYTImes media columnist Dave Carr. “More Cracks Undermine the Citadel of TV Profits.” Have a read and see how right he was.

We’ll keep tracking these trends and a few others we’ve, um, spotted. As always, please feel free to hit the “unsubscribe” button below. But if you’re hanging around, feel free to join us in obsessively tracking the TV business (and other things) on Twitter. Or you can hang with us on Facebook, too.


Braggin’ Rights & A New Site

Team Spot-On has been a little busy these past few weeks.

First, we went off to New Orleans for the annual meeting of the American Association of Political Consultants and watched our clients over at RBI Strategies & Research pick up a 1st place gold AND a 2nd place silver Pollie Award for their campaign to help the Larimer County (CO) Humane Society get a new building.

The LHS campaign – a ballot measure to raise taxes in the county – won by 52% of the vote. This in the white-hot state of Colorado where television time was at a premium. With television far too expensive, RBI decided to put the bulk of the campaign resources in the online outreach. Spot-On supervised the placement of “rich” media take-overs, Facebook placements, video pre-roll and premium placement banner ads to create a winning campaign.

How winning? 96% of the voters came down the ballot to support the LHS measure.

It’s so good, it’s included in the case-study slide show on Spot-On’s brand new spankin’ website. The site’s new but the address is the same. It’s

Usually we end this newsletter with a note saying you can unsubscribe at any time (because you can) but today we’d like to thank AAPC President Art Hackney for his kind and generous comments about our 2015-16 predictions for the political business. If the Pollies are the Oscars, for a few moments there, Spot-On Founder Chris Nolan felt a little bit like Sally Field.

If you heard Art at the Pollies and are a little curious about what he was talking about, go here and have a read. And, of course, feel free to share this with friends and colleagues. You can also hang out with us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.


Spot-On Ads Predicts…..

A few weeks ago, a well-known trade magazine carried predictions from various political consultants about the future of the business. Spot-On doesn’t like to contradict wiser heads but we did note that the focus for the predictions centered on what we think of as “business as usual” (otherwise known as mail and television) with digital dismissed as “the flavor of the month.”

Well, this is some “month” – it’s at least 10 years old by our calendar – so Spot-On has a few digital-centric predictions to share. These are ours alone and are subject to the usual disclaimers about biases, short-sightedness and smoking your own fumes.

In 2015, Spot-On thinks….

– Streaming media will start to make an obvious and important dent in cable and broadcast’s ability to reach voters. Test out this prediction: Name five streaming services. Didn’t know there were more than five? Here’s USA Today’s somewhat dated list for cord-cutters.

– Online and TV advertising will be paired so online display ads reflect and reinforce the visual richness of television. Best examples? Apple. Apple doesn’t buy box banner ads; they buy targeted TV, high-end print and lots and lots of in-banner video, homepage take-overs and push-downs.

– Voter targeting using IP “address” and cookies will have its zenith as consultants realize it’s not a magic bullet. Nor is it the best use of online advertising. How else to explain the very low win rates for campaigns that relied on voter matching and targeting?

– Mobile will begin to truly dominate. Ads on tablets show fantastic click-through rates. AND there’s no fall-off on weekends as there is with desktop ad placements.

– The rush to buy Facebook and video pre-roll will, like IP and cookie targeting, reach its high point in 2016. Prices for these placements in contested states are doubling and tripling as election day approaches and demand peaks. Consultants who plan around this will fare better.

Want to hear more about any of these predictions,  test our logic or learn more about how Spot-On’s unique approach to online political ad placement can help you win? Give us a shout.


Spot-On NationBuilder

As most of our loyal readers know, Spot-On’s roots are in Silicon Valley. We hang with techies – and always have.

So we’re pleased to announce today an affiliate agreement with NationBuilder – the world’s first community organizing system – to make our premium online ad placement service accessible to more campaigns.

Starting today, you can access Spot-On’s online advertising service with the NationBuilder platform. Anyone with a nation will have speedy access to Spot-On’s services. So, if you’re already part of the NationBuilder community, pop on over to Spot-On’s page and tell us what you need.

Spot-On will help your campaign buy premium position ads, pre-roll and mobile on known and trusted websites – the outlets relied on most frequently by voters and community leaders.

For Spot-On, this agreement means deeper reach into the political market. So you may be hearing our name a lot more often as we broaden our ability to help campaigns and advocacy efforts place ads on local news outlets.

This is one of several agreements that Spot-On is working on. We’ll have more news in the weeks to come.

Or, as they used to say on that thing we once called a “television,” stay tuned.

Privacy and Politics


It’s a hot-button political issue with voters which means anyone running a voter outreach campaign with a website – and who isn’t? – needs to know about changes and potential changes in the law.

First up, the state of California which on Jan. 1, 2014 started requiring websites to tell visitors how they handled  requests by consumers not to be tracked. Sounds like something for Amazon to worry about right?


If your online ad vendors retarget – send ads to folks who have visited your site – if they drop cookies – collect information about visitors for ad placements or if you plan to do any of these things, the law says you have to tell folks you’re doing it and how they can opt out.

As a result, you’ve almost certainly noticed that some website you’re visiting have added little “about cookies” (or similar information notices) to their sites. They’re complying with existing law and- smartly – they’re looking ahead to changes in federal law.

All the news about listening to phone calls, collecting metadata, following Internet traffic between large companies like Yahoo, Amazon, Google and eBay has consumers – those would be voters every November – nervous. Congress, too.

Consumers can see re-targeting when they surf the web. Collection of metadata? Eh. Invisible for the most part. That’s why the Direct Marketing Association got a little hot under the collar at some sections of Obama’s speech. They see what’s coming.

President Obama’s indication that he will revisit certain aspects of the laws governing how and what information the government can collect is creating an interesting convergence. It’s hard for many people to see the difference between government metadata collection, ad re-targeting and Target letting hackers get their credit card information. The political implications are starting to pile up.

A number of pieces of consumer protection legislation are lingering in Congress. It’s not hard to see how they’re merged in to national security bills to create a new set of online rules for everyone to follow. And yeah, this can certainly happen by 2016.

Bottom line: It’s probably not a bad idea to anticipate that cookie-matching technology, much loved for its supposed ability to find specific kinds of voters, is not long for the online world as it’s currently deployed. Retargeting is headed to the same fate.

Smart campaigns will already have privacy notices on their website. And farsighted consultants and vendors aren’t counting on quick-and-easy online tracking for too much longer. More questions? Spot-On can offer you alternatives that are safe, inexpensive and reliable. Give us a shout.

Aereo: You Need to Know

Spot-On has written a lot about Aereo, the Internet-enabled TV viewing service but we’re pretty sure that some of our readers are still in the dark about the importance of the company is having on the TV advertising landscape.

So here’s an analogy: Aereo is like Napster – a new service that’s changing how consumers watch TV. Its very existences makes television broadcaster livid.

The folks at Aereo would almost certainly say they’re more like iTunes – a service that adapts to the new online reality. Consumers aren’t watching TV the way they used to. They’re watching what they want, when they want, how they want. And to hell with any schedule. Or even a big screen.

Regardless of your analogy – and we like Napster ’cause of all the lawsuits involved – Aereo is worth watching. Here’s a look at why.

Main reason:  TV broadcasters are worried. They’ve asked the Supreme Court to shut Aereo down. That’s probably not going to happen. But the broadcaster are making point, telling Aereo they’re ready to do battle inside the Beltway.

That’s because they’re not getting any traction with the lower courts. And because they see Aereo cutting into their main source of revenue: advertising.

There’s only one little problem with the broadcaster’s strategy. It assumes they have the power over lawmakers that they’ve enjoyed since the Federal Communications Commission started handing out licenses and someone got the bright idea to run political advertising. Not so fast, we say.

Consider: 30% of younger persons don’t bother with a TV set. (There’s some other interesting data about upper-income well-educated households – i.e., swing voters – in that report as well). What’s that mean? It means Aereo – moving as fast as it can to grow the business – may have more traction with voters than with lawmakers.

That means any decision to outlaw the services is going to run into the same buzz saw that Hollywood ran into when it tried to get Congress to pass stronger anti-piracy laws.  And it is clearly Aereo’s strategy to have enough customers so that when there’s Congressional action, plenty of customers – voters – will chime in with their opinions. It may not have the same ring as “I Want My MTV” but the idea’s no different.

Here’s another interesting point.  Deep down in this story, a TV network exec conceded that only 40% of all shows are watched live. So a time-sensitive placement like a political ad isn’t reaching as many people as it once did.

What’s this all mean for political campaigns? Don’t bet on broadcast. And look at alternatives to television ads.