Political campaigns may, in essence, hold the same fundamental objective as consumer brands — to get in front of a particular audience and persuade them to behave in a certain way — but the methods of achieving that objective are distinctly different. This is most obvious in the comparative approach towards local media. Where many brands have dismissed local and focused instead on outlets that reach the masses for cost efficiencies in scale, politics has always remained rooted in context, where local media reigns. Local publishers provide trusted community ties that national outlets simply cannot replicate, and for that reason, local inventory becomes an increasingly desirable commodity during election cycles.
Local digital publishers have traveled an arduous path in recent years. As consumers began to fully embrace digital media, the demand from consumer marketers quickly focused on chasing audiences at-scale. Unfortunately, due to their focused audience, local digital publishers could not offer these advertisers the same scale of audience delivery that national digital publishers could. Advertising dollars went with the eyeballs and local outlets struggled to generate an appetite for their inventory from buyers who were solely focused on scale.
Except during the election cycle. Every two years, the flood gates open, with political campaigns and PACs in hot pursuit of local media opportunities. This demand is fueled by a special role that local plays in the political campaigns: community context. Whether running for national office or the town mayor, candidates want to be seen as a member of the community. And local publishers provide a means to that end.
Because of this contextual alignment, demand for local reaches its highest levels during election cycles. This is reflected in the current buying behavior of the campaigns and PACs. Most of the high-impact inventory (such as homepage take-overs and online video) has already been purchased. There is limited, if any, of this local inventory left available for the days leading up to the primary races.
This increased demand is not easily matched by the market’s supply, a fact that has become abundantly clear as the current campaign unfolds. There are only a handful of community publishers serving the most coveted, battleground states and each outlet offers a finite amount of inventory. With only so much inventory available, there are not nearly enough high-impact placements to go around. Like seats on an airplane, there are only so many. Once the premium spots are taken, the only options left may be less than desirable, like a middle seat in the last aisle.
Increased demand for a limited supply has created a marketplace of fierce competition and this is not isolated to the worlds of politics. Consumer brands are just as susceptible. Armed with new data, deeper consumer comprehension and targeting capabilities, some brands have revisited their local approach. A growing appetite from brands for local placements, combined with the ravenous appetite of political campaigns, has suddenly transformed this supply into premium inventory.
The current election cycle, if nothing else, has demonstrated the importance of context in the supply and demand of local media. In this type of market, the early bird gets the worm. The political camps understand this and that’s why early planning and budget allocation put an emphasis on securing this highly-coveted, but increasingly rare inventory. Consumer brands are learning this lesson the hard way and getting shut out of local opportunities that otherwise might have been available. As the value of local’s context becomes more and more appealing, advertisers of all shapes and sizes must factor in the context of supply and demand if they want a seat at the table.
Andrea Duggan is vice president, media sales at Gamut, smart media from Cox.