Oct 12, 2021 - Economy

Digital TV ads will flood living rooms during 2022 midterms

Political ad spending during election cycles
Data: AdImpact; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The phaseout of internet tracking cookies is fundamentally changing political campaigns, which have for years relied on them to narrowly target potential voters across the web.

Why it matters: Ad buyers expect the 2022 midterm elections to be the first campaign cycle where connected television (CTV) ads will take a meaningful market share of political spend, in part due to the fact that cookies are being scrapped.

How it works: Campaigns have relied on cookies for years to link what voters saw online to what they did offline, mostly by using databases to match cookie identifiers to home addresses, says Dwight Green, chief business officer at AdImpact, an ad analytics firm.

  • But in recent years they've been forced to adapt as voters spent more time with mobile apps that don't share data across the open web, like Facebook and YouTube. Now that those platforms are cracking down on political ads and are adopting new privacy measures, campaigns need to find a better home for their ad dollars.

By the numbers: Digital TV ads (CTV) will account for more digital ad spend than ads across mobile, desktop and tablet, per a new analysis from AdImpact.

  • In total, roughly $1.5 billion is expected to be spent on CTV, compared to $1.3 billion across mobile, desktop and tablet.
  • "CTV is accounting for an increasing amount of digital ad budgets, and those ads are largely not available to cookie-based targeting," says Tim Cameron, co-founder of FlexPoint Media, a political ad agency run by former Republican operatives.
  • Unlike traditional TV ads, CTV ads are highly unregulated and can be narrowly targeted by household, giving campaigns more options to target voters based on their interests, rather than just age and gender demographics.

Between the lines: Aside from CTV, political ad agencies are scrambling to come up with new ways to target and track voters without cookies.

  • One solution is to figure out other ways to identify users on the web without cookies, using things like email addresses or other personally identifiable data.
  • "We’ve been extensively testing and been pleasantly surprised by the reach and efficacy of early stage cookieless targeting options," said Mike Schneider, a partner at Bully Pulpit Interactive (BPI), an advertising and public affairs firm that's worked on the Obama, Clinton and Biden campaigns.
  • Another solution is to run broader campaigns that target voters using better quality content. "Broader targeting will become a reality," Schneider says. "The way forward for political campaigns is the same as ever: attract supporters with quality content, build relationships and invite them to opt in for future communications," said Eric Wilson, a veteran GOP digital strategist.

Campaigns will need to adjust the way they measure success in order to embrace this reality. "Some of the proxy metrics for success — reach, frequency — will actually become harder to measure," Schneider said. "Which can be a positive and force greater focus on outcomes, like tying advertising data to actual opinion shift from polling."

Between the lines: Last cycle was the first time campaigns began to meaningfully experiment with CTV. But because the technology was still nascent, there wasn't enough inventory for CTV to become a large portion of campaign budgets. The pandemic-driven streaming and ad tech booms have changed that.

  • "Campaigns were already moving away from cookie targeting prior to formal depreciation by browser providers," says Cameron. "Even at its peak, cookie targeting could only reach roughly 70% of a target audience."

What to watch: Part of the reason cookies are going away is because the advertising world is being forced to address privacy changes. A recent change made to Apple's privacy terms may hurt campaigns' ability to target political ads on Facebook, says Keegan Goudiss, a veteran political advertising strategist.

  • "The iOS changes are already having an effect when it comes to enrolling people in retargeting audiences and tracking conversions. I'm expecting this to hurt the efficacy of Facebook ads as time wears on, at least with direct response marketing."

Bottom line: "Targeting options like cookies gave campaigners the incorrect impression that digital ad targeting was more precise than it actually was," said Wilson.

  • "Campaigners got addicted to buying cheap attention at scale."
Go deeper