A Virus Changes Many Things

Here’s a prediction: by the end of 2020 no political campaign of any size, anywhere in the US will say they can’t afford or don’t need digital outreach. None. Never. Ever.

The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak is changing elections and campaigns. While it looks dramatic, it’s not sudden. Over the past year, almost everyone who participated in the Democratic primary brought new tactics to the table. And the cumulative effect is pretty interesting.

These are not huge changes but when you add them up – and look at our current environment – you see new ways of running political campaigns that are truly digital-centric.

This list was compiled with help from Echelon Insights founder Patrick Ruffini whose shrewd sense of how campaigns operate and his keen eye for the ‘new’ set Spot-On thinking. So we called him up. Here’s the innovation list we came up with.

The Grab-and-Grin Goes Down Market. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign broke new ground with her selfie lines. It was an inspired piece of social network outreach but it also broke another mold. No longer are photos with candidates for high-dollar donors only. Everyone’s gonna want – and get – one now.

Crowd Sourcing Creative: Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s campaign had an idea: Don’t centralize your social media outreach, distribute it! Wanna show you support Mayor Pete? Download his logos and do your own thing on the platform of your choice.

More transparency: Sen. Corey Booker’s campaign struggled to raise money in a crowded field. So the campaign turned to supporters – and outsiders – explained the need and asked for contributions. No more shame in having trouble raising money – call it Kickstarter Politics.

Mo’ Money, Mo Innovation. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg had the one thing all campaigns crave: unlimited cash. “Every possible thing was tried” Patrick notes. One highlight: the ‘influencer’ campaign on Insta and Tik-Tok. Another: truly funny self-deprecating humor that suited those platforms

Programming Note: There’s a lot more to say about Bloomberg as Patrick notes.

Buh-Bye Iowa. It took a big fat tech glitch but the confusion that was the Iowa Caucus “app” has caused a rethink on a few levels. It may be bright and shiny and it may be sold by your best friend from ’16 who now hangs out in Palo Alto or Sunnyvale – but that doesn’t mean it works.

Hacking is for Everyone. The press made a big deal about how the Nevada Caucus strung together a series of ad hoc tech solutions – Google Docs, texting, file sharing – for its reports. This is the opposite of a bright, shiny, untested (and expensive) product: A real world, working solution crafted for specific tasks. For cheap.

Sadly, so is Vicious Trolling. Team Spot-On is led by a woman who has her share of nasty, trolling comments from critics, strangers and, well, men. The Sanders’ campaign supporters who engaged in this creepy nonsense aren’t alone and they aren’t going away anytime soon. 

And We’re Not Done Yet. Already, telephone and virtual conference vendors, online organizing firms and a host of others are fielding calls and being asked for advice on what to do in a low-touch campaign environment.

So the biggest changes for 2020 are in front of us. Our bet is that some of the biggest innovations are as well.

Need help with your online efforts? Spot-On is here to help with a database of local news sites that can help you reach voters, boost a virtual town hall gathering or grow a list. Drop us a a line to see if we can help.

And follow Patrick Ruffini on Twitter. We do. He’s fantastic. 

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.