Political Advertisers Are Trading Zip Codes for Congressional Districts on CTV

A campaign sign graveyard
(Image credit: Gary Arlen)

In recent years, we’ve seen some pretty cool marketing tactics from political campaigns, including one candidate who enlisted the meme community and another’s foray into the world of video games. And while these past activations definitely exhibited a “cool” factor, this year’s 2022 midterm election marketing campaigns are banking on CTV for the “conversion” factor.

One of the obvious benefits of streaming is that it's a digital version of traditional linear media -- same content, same screen size, but with the ability to apply the benefits of programmatic ad buying. In simple terms, this means advertisers can do more than just target the “standard adults 25 to 54” they are accustomed to on linear, and leverage expanded segments including behavior, interests, and geography.

That’s why this year’s 2022 midterm elections are expected to exceed $8 billion in political ad spend, with an estimated 15% of that going to CTV, as candidates leverage streaming’s superior targeting abilities to connect with potential voters on a local level. Not to mention, CTV is redefining what “local” really means.

Getting Granular with Geography

There are 210 designated market areas (DMAs) in the U.S. and more than 41,000 zip codes within, which traditional linear TV allows advertisers to target viewers by. For political advertisers, however, targeting by zip codes doesn't quite cut it. When you break it down, congressional and legislative districts rarely line up with zip code maps, which sometimes forces candidates to buy an entire city or metro area in order to reach all the voters they want. This can result in a huge waste of money. 

Streaming, on the other hand, provides the ability to go beyond zip codes and target congressional and legislative districts from a geo perspective. This digital style targeting on television screens is something political campaigns were never able to access at scale before. And when you pair this with behavior and interest targeting, all of a sudden a political candidate can target “Democratic-leaning swing voters, that care about climate change, and live in a specific congressional district.”

This scenario recently played out in the primary for New York’s 19th Congressional District, which encompasses all or part of 11 different counties, spanning three different DMAs: New York City, Albany, and Utica. Instead of putting all their money into linear -- where they would have had to spend money across all three DMAs including the very expensive New York market -- campaigns utilized streaming to limit their buys to households within the district, making those buys far more cost-effective.

The New York DMA

Understanding the Outcomes

Another benefit of streaming being digitally delivered is that it allows candidates to transcend the probabilistic feed they’re accustomed to on linear and get down to deterministic data. Sure, linear provides a confirmation that your spot ran on this channel at this time, but streaming provides a wealth of information that is tied to a specific household based on data from IP addresses, device IDs, and geolocation. 

All those data signals coming in can be leveraged towards performance-based attribution and measurement. So candidates can see which people were exposed to what ad, and if they went to the website, joined the email list, downloaded an app, donated to the campaign, or actually walked into a physical location to vote. This is a huge step up from linear where at most candidates can determine that their ad ran, and then probabilistically attribute activity to it during a window of time. 

In recent years, we’ve seen some innovative attempts to tap into culture, but this year candidates are focused on optimizing messaging, speaking to local voters and driving conversions. And at a time when the digital is struggling to adjust to privacy regulations, iOS changes, and the sunsetting of the cookie, CTV is offering a privacy-compliant, one-stop-shop platform for candidates to drive conversions. ■

Joe Marino

Joe Marino is managing partner & head of client success at Madhive, an enterprise software platform that powers modern media. MadHive’s customers include advertisers and agencies that leverage MadHive's next-generation cryptography and AI to prevent fraud and increase margins, as well as broadcast giants that rely on the platform to power their linear reach extension offerings. As head of CSO, Joe oversees revenue generation from new as well as existing business and builds relationships with current and future clients to ensure their business needs are met and exceeded. During his tenure at MadHive, Joe has grown the business from five clients to over 30 clients, bringing on new broadcast and radio station groups, national brands, DTC brands, agencies, and other unique resellers. Joe brings over ten years of experience building sales and customer relationships to MadHive.