Priorities USA Just Put a Digital Expert in Charge of Television Ads

Promoting digital video

Big news from one of the big spenders on the Independent Expenditure side of Democratic campaigning:

Priorities USA Action, the top Democratic super PAC targeting President Donald Trump in 2020, is promoting its head of digital operations to a new role overseeing all paid media — something akin to a watershed moment in presidential politics….

“We will not operate off of a television-first strategy,” Guy Cecil, the group’s chairman, said in an interview. “We will operate off of a strategy that is simple and straightforward: We’re going to identify our targeted voters and we’re going to develop a paid media program that reaches them, whether it’s television or digital.”

For digital folks, the likely reaction to Danielle Butterfield’s elevation will be something along the lines of, “well, duh”. We in the field have long wondered when big political advertisers were going to realize that while endless, repetitive TV ads are great for local television stations and cable operators, they’re not so spectacular at moving votes — particularly after you’ve run the first few zillion spots. Groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS have poured cash into TV ads, often earning big bucks for consultants and media buyers without yielding much in return.

Commercial advertisers started putting more of their outreach budgets into digital long ago, realizing that they need to reach people on the screens they’re using moment-to-moment, not necessarily via the biggest screen they own. The same concept applies to politics, or at least it should: per the most recent version of my digital campaigning guide, “voter contact is becoming less about targeting channels and more about targeting people“.

Of course, Brad Parscale managed the Trump campaign’s paid media (serving as de facto campaign manager) in the last months of the 2016 race, and he’s now formally running the president’s entire 2020 operation. But at least on the Democratic side, few major organizations have placed their TV and radio programs in the hands of someone who came up in digital outreach, not broadcast.

What does Butterfield’s new role imply? One potential outcome: lower commissions for media buyers, since she’ll know very well the kind of extravagant mark-ups that digital consultants often tack on to the cost of purchasing ads. More certainly, she’ll create a more balanced media mix that focuses on data-targeting political messages rather than blasting them into the aether and hoping for results. As she put it in an interview in Politico,

“There’s been a lot of debate in the last couple months, and frankly years, about what role digital should play holistically across the campaign and across political organizations,” she said. “I am just frankly excited to have this opportunity at Priorities to stick around and lead the endeavor that will kind of collapse that line and allow me to put together a comprehensive media program that reaches voters where they are, regardless of channel.”



Written by
Colin Delany
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