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Expand chart
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

Dec 21, 2021 - Economy & Business

Exclusive: Taboola teams with Microsoft to launch audience network

Photo by Joshua Sammer/Getty Images for Taboola

Taboola, a content recommendation company, is launching an audience network for advertisers looking to place native ads on the open web.

Why it matters: Firms like Facebook, Amazon, Google and Spotify launched audience networks to extend their advertising reach across areas where they're dominant, like social, commerce, search and audio. Taboola's building an audience network that reaches people outside those big platforms.

Updated 9 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker

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