a4 Insights: The Playing Field for Midterm Election Ad Spending has Shifted

By a4 Advertising InSites Archives
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Connected TV and over-the-top TV opportunities will be even more powerful tools for political advertisers in the 2022 midterm elections than they were two years ago. That is the expectation of Sten McGuire, Vice President of Sales in the Political & Public Affairs sector at a4 Advertising, the advertising division of Altice USA.

With the pandemic and the 2020 election, consumer media usage has evolved, making it easier for advertisers to leverage connected TV (CTV) and over the top (OTT) with linear. "CTV and OTT are not new to the midterms or even the 2016 presidential election," McGuire explained. "However, the pandemic has established CTV and OTT as a must-have component in any media campaign, alongside linear."

Initially, in the 2018 midterms, he noted, OTT and CTV were looked at as a tactic to establish cross-platform frequency and reach extension. Then, during the pandemic, there was a massive shift in viewer engagement on these platforms as people were home more. "This binge behavior is where OTT thrives," he said.

The primary benefit for political advertisers is twofold. First, it provides additional inventory to serve impressions in a linear-like environment as cable and broadcast become tight, "which is why a4's exclusive partnership with LG Ads is so important, providing more opportunities to efficiently reach voters in a fragmented viewing environment," McGuire noted. What's more, "it allows campaigns to reach them outside of their respective cable news or local news echo chambers."

While the pandemic accelerated streaming viewership and engagement, the tide had started to rise before that time. So, it can't be considered "a fluke," he said. "This bodes well for political advertisers who need to reach specific voters within a zip code while watching content in their living rooms, where they are more open to messaging."

There are certain challenges related to whether CTV and OTT are considered linear or digital. "If spots are delivered dynamically through an ad server, all signs point to digital, right?" McGuire posited. "But the reality is that more than 70% of OTT/CTV impressions are landing on televisions in the home, just like linear."

Data usage is another challenge. "Sometimes I think data can be too granular in the way it's employed," he said. "There is the risk of serving too many impressions to the same people with OTT and CTV. We need to start scaling and using actionable insights to inform our tactics."

Solutions for advertisers require good third-party verification providers and the strategic use of first-party data. "I think that's going to become very important as we move towards a [third-party] cookie-less world," McGuire noted. "a4 can leverage authenticated IP addresses, which helps with fraud issues and ensures that the advertiser is reaching an actual home and not a bot or other non-human traffic.

"We have a proprietary data onboarding process that washes PII [personally identifiable information] data across several Internet Service Providers [ISPs] and identity partners nationally," he continued. "We have access to over 90 million IP addresses refreshed weekly, so you know you're reaching actual households within your desired audience."

All of this makes it easier to craft and customize audience segments. "We partner with dozens of third-party data vendors," McGuire explained. "From a political and public affairs standpoint, we can create any custom segment, whether directly from CRM [customer relationship management] lists, voter files, or other unique datasets with some of the highest match rates in the industry."

a4 is also beta testing a way to ascertain the effectiveness of interactive messages, which will help advertisers tweak their commercials within a flight. "Actionable insights that we glean from real people and sequential messaging will be essential to drive more meaningful conversations directly with voters throughout the cycle," he asserted. "This is something that's not heavily utilized right now."

For McGuire, the future looks bright but complex. "It's no surprise that our marketplace is becoming more competitive," he noted. "If you're only tracking impressions or completions, you're missing out on some valuable insights. Having expert boots on the ground to manage campaigns and track KPIs [key performance indicators] is very important.

"Reporting that provides value through actionable insights instead of solely measuring campaign performance through reach and frequency will be a big differentiator moving forward, as will the growth and development of ACR [automatic content recognition]," he concluded.

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