Ad Tech, Local Media and the 2016 Political Campaign

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Local media has regularly played an important role in the political campaign process. But its favorability has oscillated in recent years, mainly due to the rise of programmatic technology. In election cycles of years’ past, local media and programmatic technology functioned in two separate silos. As the industry matured, and particularly in this 2016 presidential campaign, the two have intersected, creating a new local advertising environment. In it, local publishers hold even more relevancy.

Local media have weathered a wavering relationship with ad tech, particularly within the political space. Campaigns at every level (national to hyperlocal) rely on local publishers to connect with potential voters on a community level. But with the rise of programmatic, local couldn’t compete with the ease and efficiency that attracted political camps to the technology. Using real-time bidding platforms and private market places, campaigns could now maintain control over ad buys and quickly change course on message or placement strategy. In a world that moves at lightning speed, this was a perfect match.

The one thing programmatic did not offer was local inventory. Many local publishers chose to restrict their inventory from programmatic channels, relying instead on direct sales teams. The impact of conducting “business as usual” was evident in the 2012 campaigns. While local publishers still offered political camps the coveted community context, it was at a high cost of time and resources. Meanwhile, in the end programmatic ate away at some of local’s ad revenue.

But now the tide is shifting. The 2016 campaigns are functioning in a mature environment, where the two now intersect. And so far, it has been a resource leveraged to the campaigns’ benefit. It is truly through technology that campaigns can access local inventory with ease and at scale. Executing local media buys no longer requires working with a number of sales teams. Instead, political advertisers can execute these local buys seamlessly through programmatic platforms. What’s more, they now have access to inventory that was previously unavailable. With this new intersection, both access and scale can be achieved in a much more expedient way, with faster execution and fewer interruptions.

This new local landscape, a product of the intersection of ad tech and local inventory, has influenced the relationship between campaigns and local publishers in two distinct ways. The first is the perceived value of local inventory. This is particularly evident in the current campaign leading up to the primary races. Endemic inventory in key geographic areas such as Iowa and New Hampshire is now back in play, and this is extremely valuable real estate for campaigns.

The second is the timing at which inventory is purchased. Because programmatic technology has allowed campaigns to maintain control over execution, more and more media buys are being made instantaneously. Because programmatic exchanges are always “on,” campaigns have the ability to make changes or execute a buy instantaneously, a fact they have fully embraced. While premium inventory, such as homepage takeovers, continues to be secured in advanced because it is so scarce, other local impressions are being bought on the fly.

The 2016 presidential race is certainly operating in a new advertising environment. Reaching the news and information consumer is now possible through a wide range of channels, and media buys can be executed in mere milliseconds thanks to programmatic technology. Now that local inventory has joined this channel, political camps have the ability to execute local campaigns on a massive scale, making this inventory even more critical to their overall strategies. As programmatic and local media continue to overlap, we’ll see increased relevancy around this inventory, particularly for political campaigns.

Andrea Duggan HeadshotAndrea Duggan is vice president, media sales at Gamut, smart media from Cox.