Midterm Elections 2014: No TV Cable? Candidates Struggle To Court The Cord-Cutter Vote

Daily News Article   —   Posted on October 30, 2014

cordcutters(by Christopher Zara and David Sirota, International Business Times) – [People who have] dumped cable-TV [and use] a Web-enabled TV …to stream shows and movies online thought they were getting the added benefit of [escaping] all the negative campaign ads that flood states every two years. Yet, now you’re watching Hulu and up pops a political attack ad castigating the U.S. senator running for re-election — the same ad that seems to pop up on websites every time you browse the Internet.

You’re not alone. As the 2014 midterm elections heat up, candidates in states with the closest races are increasingly seeking out cable-less voters on places like Facebook, Pandora and Hulu — much to the dismay of consumers who thought their [choice to stream TV shows] would spare them from the cyclical barrage of election-cycle campaign ads. “Am I the only one about ready to put my fist through the monitor every time one pops up?” one DataLounge commenter said of Hulu political ads.

Last year, more than 1.7 million Americans dropped their pay-TV subscriptions…. Cable giants like Comcast and Time Warner Cable are losing tens of thousands more each quarter. In a political arena that segments the population into groups like “soccer moms” and “office park dads,” these are the so-called “cord cutters” – in this case the growing pool of voters who are reducing their exposure to broadcast television, cable, newspapers, magazines and [traditional] radio; [a cord cutter is a person who cancels or forgoes a cable television subscription or landline phone connection in favor of an alternative Internet-based or wireless service]. According to a recent industry study comparing data from 2008 to the present, the average American is spending 25 fewer minutes a day with those legacy media* and 27 more minutes with online and mobile media. [*legacy media: the opposite of new media; traditional means of communication and expression that have existed since before the advent of the new medium of the Internet.]

One way campaigns are adjusting to this shift is by purchasing ads directly from the cord-cutter favorites that are replacing traditional television and radio. In 2012, for example, Hulu saw a 700 percent increase in the number of political ads from previous election cycles. In the current election, Pandora is airing ads for roughly 400 campaigns, a spokesman for the online radio company told CNBC.

For campaigns, an added benefit of those kind of ads in comparison to traditional TV and radio ads is the prospect of higher “completion rates.” Because users can’t fast forward through them, and because it’s more cumbersome to flip stations, there’s a higher expectation that the viewer will actually sit through them.

In any case, campaigns have no choice but to embrace the new platforms if they want to reach voters like Alex Musto, a 30-year-old video editor from Brooklyn. “I’ve basically never had cable,” Musto said. “I watched broadcast TV for a while, but I stopped after they converted to digital antennas. I just watch on Hulu or Netflix.”

Between ads on streaming services and social media, online political ad spending is expected to grow 1,825 percent in 2014, according to research from Borrell Associates. To claim a larger piece of that share, tech companies are aggressively touting their ability to microtarget — something legacy media can’t do with nearly as much specificity. That’s because legacy media is a one-way stream of information from news outlets to viewers, while online platforms involve a back-and-forth exchange of data.

That user data — often embedded in Internet browser cookies — allows campaigns to know far more about who they are sending ads to than just geographic location. Depending on the online ad platform, they can track target audiences based on location, interests, political leanings and consumer habits. If a campaign’s target voter lives in Seattle, drinks Starbucks and reads Mother Jones [liberal] magazine, the campaign can tailor its ads directly to that micro-demographic. This is why when browsing the Internet, you may end up seeing the same political ad at different sites. The ads are being served to you personally, based on your metadata.

In the current election, companies are making it easier for campaigns to microtarget. For example, Pandora launched a feature that allows candidates to target voters based on their specific listening habits, which the company believes may correlate with a person’s political affiliations.

Facebook Inc. has gone a step further, expanding its “Custom Audience” feature to allow campaigns to target users by linking voter files and political preferences. Politicians have long used voter files in direct-mail campaigns — with the help of data brokers like Acxiom — but Facebook has streamlined the process by giving campaign managers a direct link.

“There is no third party,” Josh Eboch, political director for Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who began using Facebook’s feature last year, said. “What used to take weeks now takes hours.”

…Bully Pulpit Interactive is an ad company that focuses on digital platforms for political campaigns. It has been around only five years, but it’s already one of the oldest companies that specializes in social media and digital strategies for political campaigns. The company was founded by marketers who worked on Barack Obama’s historic presidential run in 2008, when the then-senator from Illinois famously leveraged social media to attract record numbers of under-30 voters. Bully Pulpit boasts that it has replicated that success at the state and local levels, including for Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia and Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York.

Since cord cutters tend to be younger, it’s habitually easier for politicians to ignore them. Despite Obama’s overwhelming success with first-time voters, campaigns still don’t expect young voters to turn out, and therefore fail to go after them. Kellner said that is finally changing with the ability to target narrower segments of the population online.

“The more sophisticated campaigns aren’t looking at it as a chicken-and-egg scenario with young people,” he said. “They’re identifying the right young people to talk to.”

But not as much as they might. Political ad spending is projected to top $8.2 billion this year, and well over half of that will go to television. All told, online advertising will account for only 3.3 percent of the total pie. According to Corey Elliott, Borrell’s director of research, campaign managers are…concerned about reaching online voters, but as in any industry, old habits die hard. “It feels like at the very last minute, whoever’s in charge of the campaign, pulls back and shoves it all on to TV,” he said. “There’s been leaps and bounds, but TV’s still getting the major share.”

Democrats are ahead in the social media game, but after Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012, a lot more Republicans started paying attention. …

Alex Patton, a GOP pollster and founder of Ozean Media in Florida, said it’s a no-brainer that candidates will have to pay attention to voters who don’t watch traditional TV. Just go to any college campus, he said, and watch students engage with their iPhones.

He has no doubt about the developing shift from digital to mobile, and shares a concern that echoes across the media: How do you monetize such tiny screens without annoying people to death? For now, it’s still a lot of trial and error. “If anybody’s told you they’ve figured out the mobile solution, they’re not telling you the truth,” Patton said. “Nobody’s quite got it yet.”

Reprinted here for educational purposes only.  May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from The International Business Times (IBTimes).


While the fragmentation of audiences across different media platforms complicates campaigns' ability to reach voters, the audience's shift online is letting underfinanced campaigns put up a fight through cheaper, niche marketing strategies that avoid expensive broadcast television altogether.

For example, the campaign in Colorado to pass a ballot measure mandating special labels for some products with genetically modified ingredients has been grossly outspent by opponents in the food industry. To spread the word about the initiative, the campaign has relied on a mix of both demographically microtargeted ads and banner ads on news sites. The former method sends an ad only to specific users based on factors like their cookie profile, while the latter appears for all users who come to a specific site.

"Will it work? The simple answer is: I don't know," RBI Strategies' Rick Ridder, the ad consultant to the campaign, said. "But I do know this: We can't afford TV and we can't afford radio because they are just ridiculously expensive in this market during an election when so many other candidates are buying up all the time. So that leaves us with very few options -- but at least this is an option where we have some ways to know exactly who we are reaching."

The strategy has applications that go beyond just election campaigns, Ridder said. During a recent policy fight over regulating natural gas exploration, Ridder oversaw an environmental campaign that bought ads which were sent specifically to people using computers whose IP addresses were at the state capital and the state Department of Natural Resources, and to those whose browser cookies said they were in the zip code in the capital area.

"We had a very clear idea of our target audience -- it was lawmakers, lobbyists and the business community," Ridder said. "The data tools allowed us to get our message to them." (from the IB Times article above)