How Online Advertising Can Make Political Ads More Effective


ADOTAS – Not too many years ago, the internet was considered the domain of non-voting youth and distracted tech geeks. Now with the rapid rise of broadband, Facebook and smartphones, it is very much in the mainstream. Television still has a powerful impact on its audience, but for maximum effectiveness, smart media consultants will combine TV with online advertising and its mix of powerful techniques, including micro-targeting and retargeting.

Some 57 percent of the almost $10 billion spent on political advertising this year will be spent on TV advertising. Many media analysts believe the investment in TV is excessive, given that 41 percent of all media is now consumed online, and a good percentage of those that do watch television are often tuned to commercial-free stations such as PBS and HBO. Nevertheless TV remains front and center of the political media landscape.

The key question then is how can campaign managers and media consultantsoptimize their TV investment. One key issue is measurement and the degree to which a given TV ad campaign is effective in converting swing voters. After all, the enormous sums of TV dollars spent by Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina and Linda McMahon failed to help them win their campaigns. And if an ad seems to be working, how we can tell it the message is optimized to the fullest extent possible?

Political TV has a host of other challenges as well, including limited reach, particularly to affluent donors and voters who now spend a third more time online than watching TV, lengthy lead and response times, imprecise targeting, high media and production costs and limited, last-month inventory.

As it turns out, using a mix of online advertising and TV advertising can resolve every one of the challenges above and significantly improve the overall effectiveness of political campaigns. For instance, online A/B ad testing can readily optimize messaging, and research has shown online messaging translates well to TV.

Online advertising can extend the reach of a TV ad campaign and reach sub-targets that don’t watch a lot of commercial TV via micro-targeting. Indeed, studies completed with the cooperation of American Association of Advertising Agencies and described in Rex Briggs and Greg Stuart’s book, What Sticks: Why Most Advertising Fails and How to Guarantee Yours Succeeds, show that a combination of TV and online advertising can generate a 20 percent higher ROI than a TV-only ad campaign with the same budget. Online ads can be targeted to a greater degree than even direct mail, accounting for ZIP code, gender, income, age and other demographics.

Sufficient frequency is essential in a political season for a political ad campaign to have any chance of resonating. It is considered a rule of thumb in political advertising that a frequency level of at least 10 to 12 exposures is necessary before an ad can have an impact. Online retargeting of website visitors ensures a high threshold frequency in a week or less at a much lower CPM than TV advertising. Reaching  threshold frequency with TV can often be challenging with limited media inventory in the busy closing weeks of a campaign. Online ads seldom run up against inventory constraints and can help augment TV spots to ensure sufficient frequency levels.

One of the biggest reasons to consider including online advertising in your media mix is the ability to quickly adjust to competitive claims. Online ads can be created in a matter of an hour or two, and for as little as a few hundred dollars, with a platform such as AdReady. Compare this to the lead time of a TV ad which often takes several days or more and can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Nothing proves online advertising’s impact more than it proven ability to garner donations. For instance, in January of this year, half of all Obama 2012 donations came by way of online ads, and those percentages are likely to trend upward. Online ads can sway voters because of their unmatched ability to inform via a single click. Use of a high-speed broadband connection has increased 300 percent since the last presidential election, yet online advertising will still be an afterthought for many political campaigns this year. Consider using it in tandem with more traditional media like television to give your campaign a winning edge.


  1. Brilliant stuff..I attended the AdReady seminar The New Rules of Political Advertising and came away very impressed..all in one solution including micro-targeting, retargeting and easy access to cost efficient ad exchanges..

  2. Candidates shouldn’t advertise on broadcast or cable unless their political district comprises a significant portion of the audience. Linda McMahon negated much of her CT Senate cash advantage by squandering large amounts of it on NYC spot TV. Only a minuscule percentage of the New York audience could vote in a CT election. If I can see the commercial and can’t vote in the election, the candidate is wasting money.

    On the other hand, nothing equals broadcast’s impact. I should probably rephrase the last sentence to nothing equals video’s impact. Candidates can achieve TV’s impact without the waste by repurposing commercials for the web and buying geo-targeted units. Many websites offer IP address targeting and some even offer Congressional district based buys.


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