Online Strategies for Political Advertising are Defined by Age, Not Party Affiliation

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Throughout the 2016 election cycle, online advertisers spent over $1B, with political professionals employing digital specialists with varying levels of expertise.

According to research age (not your party) is the best indicator for understanding the impact of advertising in the digital space. Research was conducted by Spot-On, the leading online ad firm serving the political marketplace.

“With online political ad spending expected to exceed $1 billion during the 2016 cycle, digital advertising familiarity and proficiency aligned with generational attributes, not party affiliation,” says Chris Nolan, CEO and founder of Spot-On.

For the two months that led up to the election, they surveyed political ad buyers, campaign managers and media consultants from both parties. What emerged is a portrait of a market still adjusting to the use of digital and online technology, with younger political professionals ahead of older colleagues in their fluency and understanding of digital media.  

Key findings from Spot-On’s research include:

  • Digital Spend is Growing.  Regardless, of their level of comfort with digital campaigning, 60 percent of persons surveyed said that they maintained or increased their spending online in 2016. One in five said they were increasing budgets by 25 percent or more.
  • Young professionals use digital space better. An overwhelming number – 93 percent – of consultants and campaign managers over 45 years of age described themselves as knowing “enough to be dangerous” or “novices.” For younger professionals, 76% considered themselves as “dangerous” or “expert” in their use of digital technology. In both cases, age, not party affiliation triumphed in understanding the online world.
  • Consultants use of media based on experience, not effectiveness. The use of technology also differed by age. The majority of younger respondents said digital advertising was better than TV or traditional media when it came to targeting voters. Older consultants were less inclined to rely on digital for reaching voters calling online efforts “an emerging channel.”
  • ROI and targeting remain elusive: There was no difference across the political parties when it came to the use or deployment of digital advertising. Regardless of affiliation, those polled shared the same primary concerns about measuring the effectiveness of online campaigns. At the same time, these professionals struggle to understand the variety offerings available and how best to use them.

“Spot-On’s research shows that the online political marketplace has grown but it’s at a crossroads,” said Nolan. “As 2016 ends, political professionals see digital’s potential for building lists, targeting voters and persuading specific demographics, but they need help understanding the range of online products, the best ways to pinpoint voters and effective metrics to evaluate online’s effectiveness.”

“Money and opportunity is wasted because consultants don’t ask the right questions or seek advice about their options,” Nolan says. “They may know enough but they’re still dangerous.”

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