Race Tightens, and So Does Ad Inventory

Candidates use video ads not only as a fundraising tool, but also as a branding medium

Old habits die hard, even when it comes to new media and political advertising.

As candidates hit the home stretch last week, they ramped up their ad spending on TV as well as online video.

Reston, Va.-based Resonate, an online data analytics firm, tallied 38 million video impressions during the week of Oct. 22, a 650 percent increase versus the first week of October. The figure was expected to swell to well over 60 million impressions in the final week of the month, most of that coming from the swing states and highly contested races.

If 2008 was the year politicians woke up to the Internet, 2012 may well be known as the election when
online political ads became a budget line. Total spending topped $300 million, double what was invested in 2008. This will also go down as the year online campaign strategies, and especially the use of video, matured from a fundraising tool to a branding medium.

“Video is being included more in online campaigns, not only as a proxy for TV, but to communicate complex messages about candidates, issues and not reach using TV,” said Bryan Gernert, CEO of Resonate.

Online ads have given whole new meaning to the concept of rapid response; in fact, Resonate
reported that 85 percent of its campaigns were running in real time. Aided by social media, online ads have the added advantage of letting candidates create an echo chamber for their messages.

“Candidates bought as much online video as they possibly could,” said Shawn Riegsecker, chairman and CEO of Centro, which placed online ads for Obama for America in 2008 and many other high-profile political campaigns this election season. “In the last general election, online was more reactive to the terrestrial strategy—in 2012, the Web sat at the table,” Riegsecker said.

The demand for online video has led to tighter inventory for premium video for the websites of local newspapers and TV stations. Across the 50 local sites supported by Internet Broadcasting, political campaign volume doubled between 2008 and 2012.

“We suspect campaigns will be looking to find alternative methods to display their video commercials as on-air and more standard digital placements are sold out,” said Reed Varner, vp of Internet Broadcasting’s digital agency, which creates and manages digital campaigns.

“Just as there was no inventory left in Ohio on TV, there is almost none left for online advertising,” said Riegsecker, who complained there is not enough online video to meet demand. “The local websites haven’t done a good job in creating significant video audiences, and the company sitting on top of the most video, YouTube, isn’t as high quality.”