How to spend your programmatic ad budget most effectively during an election

How to spend your programmatic ad budget most effectively during an election

With the US congressional and presidential election cycle well underway, more and more political campaign strategists have been recognizing the importance of data-driven programmatic advertising strategies for advancing their candidates’ campaigns.  Just like in the world of business and e-commerce, where programmatic advertising targets customers in any given market to buy particular products or services, it can also be used effectively by political campaigns to target voters.  In this context, the value of using local news publishers to get the attention and support of voters is especially relevant. 

Here, we’ll discuss why – and how to use your programmatic ad budget most effectively during an election season.

A brief look back at political programmatic advertising

Political campaigns first started relying on programmatic advertising during President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. Back then, the Obama campaign administration used data collection and digital advertising in a way that hadn’t been done before, making advertising decisions based on in-depth results from data about voters collected through online platforms. In fact, this data reportedly drove almost all aspects of the campaign’s decision-making regarding media and advertising operations. 

This strategy set the stage for Donald Trump’s digital ad campaign in 2016, which a Facebook exec even called “the single ever best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser,” to today’s political candidates. Today, all campaigns rely on political programmatic advertising for precise messaging. In fact, in the 2018 US midterm elections, programmatic advertising buying made up 60% of political digital ad budgets. In addition, video advertising comprised 56% of media spend from those campaigns. 

Some trends and tips to benefit from political programmatic advertising today

Today, with COVID-19 forcing in-person presidential conventions, debates, rallies and other events online, political campaigns therefore need to concentrate more of their budget spend on online and digital advertising strategies. What’s more, political candidates’ digital efforts and online advertising need to stand out more, since more eyes than ever before are online these days. 

To make the most of your political programmatic advertising budget, here are aspects to focus your budget on: 

  1. Consider undecided voters

Political programmatic advertising provides campaign managers with access to third-party data that can identify those voters who support their candidates’ ideals and platforms and then place relevant political ads in front of them. Given such precise targeting, political campaigns should also focus on using the data to find and place their agenda in front of undecided voters since there is huge potential for swaying their political preference toward their candidate. 

By targeting voters based on their gender, age, political preference of a specific issue, financial status, education, party affiliation, residence, financial status, etc., your campaign will no longer waste money on advertisements aimed at and shown to voters whose ideals are not (potentially if not fully) aligned with your candidate’s.  

  1. Look beyond social for their campaigns

Though social media platforms are important advertising platforms in general, their significance in political elections has lessened since the last US presidential election, thanks to Facebook’s role in the Russian election meddling in 2016 and Twitter’s subsequent decision to ban political ads. Consequently, political campaign advertisers spend their budgets on strategies other than social media, like OTT [see next point].

  1. Allocate budget for OTT and Video

Nowadays, more US households have CTV than linear TV and are connected to OTT. Therefore, advertisers should look for viewers outside of linear and therefore focus their ad dollars on OTT and video options. In fact, CTV captures more than 30% of the TV viewers yet only about 3% of the ad spend. There is room – and there are eyeballs waiting.

  1. Think Local – National Campaigns

Whether your candidate is running for office in a local election or a state Senate race, think local. Use your political programmatic advertising budget to create and customize ads about specific social issues that will resonate with the relevant voters in a particular district. In the 2018 midterm elections, “hyperlocal” programmatic tactics were used by more than 55% of election-related campaigns. 

With gerrymandering being such a pervasive issue, as people’s voting districts are up in the air, constantly being drawn and redrawn to benefit whatever party, targeted programmatic advertising in 2020 is essential. Just as today’s technology and data informs parties and state mapmakers about where to draw (or redraw) the district maps. Therefore, using the same data, programmatic advertising will let campaigns know which ads to use where, to target only the relevant districts. The most effective way to reach the voters you want at the most local level there is through local news publishers.

Here is where Brightcom’s B-local comes in handy. This AI-driven platform is a local news audience exchange that provides buyers with direct access to people’s everyday lives. B-local is an aggregated access point to news sites across the US, which then allows first look settings and flexible options. For example, in an election year, news firms work extra hours to keep pace with all the local election-related happenings. As more events take place, more consumers want to consume details about all the goings-on. Consequently, they are looking for local news across different platforms, where they’re spending much more time than they previously were. Meanwhile, B-local offers advertisers (i.e., political campaigns) an alternative to programmatic’s “faceless masses” approach by re-incorporating brands into a community.


Long before COVID-19 changed the face of the US presidential election, political programmatic advertising already shifted the landscape of the election cycle online. Those campaigns who spend their budgets on accessing and collecting the most accurate and detailed voter data analysis to target the right voters – on OTT and at the local levels – will be ahead of the game. 

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