How to Win the Midterms with Ads on Streaming Media

voting and politics
(Image credit: Joaquin Corbalan/istock/Getty Images)

As consumers continue to spend more time watching streaming TV and listening to online audio, political advertisers are investing billions in streaming media channels to reach and engage target voters. 

During the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, political advertising spend on connected TV was estimated to be upwards of $750 million, exceeding even optimistic projections. As the coronavirus ebbs and TV viewing time returns to prepandemic levels, 2022 political CTV ad-spend projections are now estimated at a boggling $1.48 billion. Even looking at these forecasts conservatively, they suggest despite 2022 being a midterm election, political CTV ad spend is on course to nearly double what it was in 2020.

David Wiesenfeld

David Wiesenfeld (Image credit: TransUnion)

The astounding growth rate of CTV political advertising spend is driven in large part by the fact streaming media is purpose-built for political advertising campaigns. Campaigns and causes that effectively tap into connected media advertising‘s scale, flexibility and advanced targeting capabilities stand to gain.

Whether political advertisers are interested in reaching Generation Z, the baby boomers or any group in between, streaming is on its way to become the dominant way to watch TV. Most U.S. homes (79%) still subscribing to pay TV also carry a subscription streaming service. By mid-2023, most homes won’t have a cable or satellite-TV subscription for the first time in more than 40 years. Even 40% of baby boomers spend more time consuming video content via streaming services today, compared to 45% who watch more cable and network TV. Across age groups, advertisers wanting to engage consumers will need a household-first view of streaming media audiences whether they want to reach streaming-only households, hybrid households — subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) and pay TV — or want to coordinate addressable campaigns across linear addressable and streaming channels.

Reaching intended targets is critical to political advertising success. Connected media allows for precision-targeted, addressable advertising with messaging designed to resonate with specific voter segments. Advertisers can also target based on political interests and behaviors, such as party membership, past voting behavior and issue orientation for more effective advertising reach and messaging.

The Local Advantage

A defining characteristic of political advertising is nearly all ads run at the local level. Streaming media in effect is entirely “local” as it is addressable at the household level — regardless of program or station — making it a natural fit for political advertising campaigns. In addition to targeting households based on attributes like tendency to vote and party affiliation, CTV and smart speakers enable campaign geography to be tailored to specific neighborhoods, municipal boundaries, congressional districts and state borders.

With midterm elections approaching, advertisers must consider one of the biggest challenges in reaching precise targets via connected channels — scale. Historically, no more than half of the eligible population votes during midterm elections. And only a subset of those will turn out to support a specific candidate or cause — and even fewer are undecided. This makes the window to reach the right U.S. adults small, requiring political advertisers to play a scale game — targeting as many of the right voters as possible with specific messaging. For advertisers to scale this approach, they’ll need to tap into a large data set that includes nearly all ad-addressable homes. 

To target streaming media advertising precisely, advertisers need to reach people in the places they engage by precisely associating devices to streaming households. This means capturing and resolving the many signals that make up a household’s streaming identity, including those from streaming-capable devices, streaming channels and even proprietary identifiers employed by some streaming publishers and device manufacturers. By resolving identity across walled gardens via interoperable solutions, advertisers can achieve greater reach and better targeting, as well as messaging consistency.

Motivating voters to turn out is no easy feat, but it’s better accomplished when political advertisers can reach more of the right targets with messaging that resonates. The combination of data-driven audience targeting, real-time flexibility of a digital channel and geographic precision make streaming media an effective, highly efficient choice for political advertisers to get the most bang from tight budgets. With near-record ad spending predicted this election cycle, audience targeting that scales across connected channels could make all the difference come November. ■

David Wiesenfeld

David Wiesenfeld is lead strategist, media & entertainment at TransUnion.