Addressable TV: The Creepy and Awesome New Political Ad Frontier

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New contributor Michelle Coyle Edwards is Vice President at Rising Tide Interactive.

Recently I attended the uber-nerdy Ramp Up! conference in Silicon Valley, where all manner of data geeks and corporate digital marketing gurus were represented. All anyone could talk about? Addressable television.

For those of us who work in digital, programmatic advertising (using data to optimize ad spends) has always been at the core of any online buying strategy. But up until now, targeting for television buys has been limited to a handful of options like media markets, channels and individual shows. With the advent of addressable TV, advertisers will now be able to target by household based on demographic factors like age, ethnicity, household income, and marital status.

What began a few years ago as a niche experiment is rapidly becoming widely available: by the end of 2014, it was estimated that 50 million households (or about 45% of American households with televisions) would be able to receive addressable ads. Corporate brands like Proctor & Gamble and Volkswagon have been running test campaigns with promising results: VW saw a measurable lift in sales last spring after targeting ads to households with high auto purchase intent (as determined by looking at data sets that included auto lease expiration dates).

This type of audience intent data now extends to tracking the physical locations of individuals and creating intent profiles based on said data. For instance, VW might identify a customer with high purchase intent after they visit several car dealerships in a week.

Obviously the implications for political advertising are huge, and providers have taken notice. Direct TV and Dish Network recently combined efforts to launch a new platform to simplify addressable ad buying aimed directly at the rapidly growing campaign market [Ed. note: more on the Dish/DirecTV partnership’s implications for political campaigns in Technology Bytes].

The cost of this type of hyper-targeted advertising is going to remain elusive for all but the highest-tier campaigns for a few years, but we can still go ahead and imagine a world where we can target TV ads about education spending to parents because we know who has been in the school pickup line every day. That future is rapidly becoming the new advertising reality.

For political campaigns, this change means making room in television budgets for additional creative, so that media consultants could run a different ad aimed at persuadable swing voters than they send to likely base voters. For advocacy campaigns, television advertising begins to make more sense when you can target ads directly to likely supporters and donors without wasting money putting your message in front of people who don’t care.

Alas, with the current limited inventory requiring minimum buys in the six-figure range and astronomical CPAs, addressable TV isn’t going to be a practical solution for most campaigns until a few years from now. Luckily, the same level of precision targeting is available for a much more cost-effective and efficient online ad campaign from your friendly neighborhood digital consultant.

Ed. note: for more about addressable communications in advocacy and politics more broadly, see my recent piece in CQ/Rollcall’s Connectivity blogcpd.

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Michelle Coyle Edwards
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