Digital advertising will determine the race to the White House

Adam Cohen-Aslatei

The 2016 presidential race is one of the most polarizing in recent history. Candidates will need to work extra hard to woo independent voters, who now make up 43 percent of the electorate. One of the best ways to move the needle is to double down on digital video, specifically mobile video.

Why this new modality? The answer lies in the fact that millennials, many of them independent voters, now make up America’s largest voting bloc. Additionally, we know this group spends more time on mobile than on any other information or entertainment platform. However, campaigns are less experienced than brand advertisers and are allocating far less spend to digital media.

Brands love digital video because it provides top marketing performance, actionable analytics, and social media impact. eMarketer agrees, stating that video advertising is one of the most influential marketing tactics on the road to the White House. But will Trump and Clinton step up to the plate and invest in digital video in a meaningful way?

Video Performance

From April 2015 to March 2016, over 110 million hours of U.S. presidential election-related content was viewed on YouTube, and consumption will likely accelerate as November approaches. In January of this year, there were more political campaign ads watched on YouTube than Super Bowl ads. Candidates have responded to this shift in behavior by devoting more of their advertising budgets to digital and mobile video than ever before.

The Republican National Committee recently finalized its largest digital advertising deal ever, reserving an unprecedented $150 million worth of video ad inventory for the general election (Ad Age). Not to be outdone, Clinton’s campaign has been investing more in digital video as well, releasing about two videos per week on Twitter alone. The results have been positive, with hundreds of thousands of views within days. But is this enough? Campaigns are only expected to spend about 11 percent of their advertising budgets on digital marketing. By comparison, the average brand has moved about 35 percent of their investments into digital.

As top brands lead the charge into new digital video platforms, candidates should take note. A Nielsen study reveals that Snapchat reaches 41 percent of all 18-to 34-year-olds in the U.S., as opposed to the top 15 TV networks, which reach only six percent of the same demographic. Snapchat not only reaches a larger audience, but also outperforms other tactics. For example, a recent study conducted by Millward Brown reported that a Spotify video campaign on Snapchat resulted in a 30 percent lift in subscription intent. This was twice as effective as all other mobile tactics.

Digital video advertising consistently outperforms for top brands and could do the same for presidential candidates, especially millennials. Yet, candidates are still expected to spend over 70 percent of their budget on TV ads. Is there a disconnect? Seventy-two percent of media agencies now find that digital video is as effective, if not more effective, than traditional TV commercials. Digital video achieves twice the message/brand recall and ad favorability when compared to traditional TV commercials, according to Nielsen – not to mention the cost of a :30 second TV spot has increased over 29 percent since 2012. Better performance and pricing models are key reasons why many of the largest brands are reallocating TV spend to digital video.

Actionable Insights

Digital video advertising also provides powerful analytics that are not available with television. This allows for what is known as “adaptive marketing” or real-time marketing. Data is instantly collected and analyzed, and marketers can make campaign optimizations in real time. For example, an automotive company can create multiple versions of the same video for different geographies and demographics, and then optimize for what drives the best results with customers. Similarly, candidates can optimize for various performance metrics including video completions, post view engagements, and brand lift. In the auto industry, for example, the most impactful messages are micro-targeted to each constituent based on adaptive marketing – something TV could never do.

Voters are consuming more digital video about the elections than ever before and candidates are taking notice. In early 2016, there was a 224 percent increase in the number of YouTube searches for topics related to refugees and immigration. By keeping a close eye on YouTube analytics, Clinton’s campaign was able to preemptively address public concerns. Looking to lock in the Latino vote before the Nevada primary, Clinton’s campaign released a video ad of her comforting a young girl whose parents were threatened with deportation. The video was not only a response to the surging public interest in immigration, but also an effort to highlight Clinton’s ability to show emotion and connect with her voters. Trump is also using video insights to optimize his messaging. However, to date, he is doing so more on an ad hoc basis.

Influencer Impact

Many top brands, such as Chevy, Macy’s, Kohl’s, and Toyota partner with social influencers to benefit from their authenticity and audience relationship. For example, Rhett and Link, YouTube influencers with over four million subscribers, partnered with Toyota to promote the company’s new car on their YouTube channel. The pair created custom content and integrated it into their programming, resulting in a 20 percent lift in ad recall and moving the customer faster down the marketing funnel toward action.

In a study conducted by Halverson Group, marketers stated that sponsored social media is one of the most effective marketing tactics, ahead of display, television, radio, and print, and that digital video is one of the most impactful formats. This is especially true when it comes to connecting with millennials. According to a Collective Bias study, young adults are 70 percent more likely to purchase a product endorsed by a non-celebrity influencer as compared to a celebrity endorsement, and digital video is the most effective way of delivering that message. Social influencers have the public trust and authenticity that candidates need.

Senators Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz embraced influencer advocacy and the power of smart social video usage. Rapper Michael Render (a.k.a. “Killer Mike”) interviewed Sanders in a six-part video series published on the candidate’s social media accounts while Ted Cruz earned public support from Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty in a widely circulated one-minute video. Sanders’ videos received over 2.4 million views on YouTube and hundreds of thousands more on Facebook while the one from Cruz/Robertson captured 1.2 million views in just the first week.

But is this enough? Candidates are spending less than half of what brands spent in 2011 on digital (as a percentage of budget). And while candidates have started to use social influencers, they have been mostly relying on traditional media to get the message out.

Road to the White House

The presidential candidates have the ability to tap into user behavioral data with digital video and gain further insight into how their messages are resonating. They can test out new content and messaging in real time, and make changes quickly. TV represents a much greater financial risk with the added setback of limited real-time messaging analysis. Digital video content is generating record-breaking scale and engagements because it allows audiences to learn quickly about and share “snackable moments.” Google recently predicted that this presidential election will be decided by “micro-moments,” when users view digital content online and are quietly converted into voters.

Digital video is one of the most powerful media tactics. If presidential candidates can harness the medium effectively and focus on mobile to reach millennials, it could be the key to the White House.

Adam Cohen-Aslatei is Jun Group's senior director of marketing. He tweets @adamaslatei

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