Lessons from the 2018 Midterm Elections: A Crash Course in the New Rules of TV Advertising

Submitted by Dan Sinagoga
August 9, 2019

Effectv recently released Winning TV Strategies for Elections, our new Political ebook that shares valuable data-driven TV ad strategies born out of the lessons learned from the 2018 election cycle.

On the heels of this release, we sat down with Effectv's Dan Sinagoga, VP, Political Advertising, for a Q+A to understand the key takeaways from the research.



What made the 2018 midterm elections different for political advertisers?

The 2018 midterm elections were different in two important ways. First, the elections were the most anticipated midterms in decades given the super-charged political climate that we’re living in. Candidates were willing to spend large budgets on what they deemed a must-win election, which resulted in a very competitive media environment with a lot of noise.

Second, there were big changes in the media landscape in terms of how voters were accessing content, particularly in what we’re calling The New TV. Technology and distribution channels are evolving quickly, so in 2018 the rules of TV advertising were different than they were two years earlier, in 2016, during the last major election cycle. As such, political candidates had to adapt their TV strategies accordingly.

Tell us a bit more about The New TV.  What has changed?

It’s fair to say that television has gone through a transformation over the past five years in terms of both content and distribution. There’s been an influx of really great, quality content, spurred in part by the added competition from streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, as well as some of the more traditional players. At the same time, streaming in general has changed the way viewers access this content, with many more digital options and paths to view content.

These new distribution channels have in turn produced a dramatic increase in data, which can be used to better understand viewing behavior, for more precise targeting, and for more accurate measurement. 

How did Effectv help political candidates navigate The New TV landscape?

We have a unique view of the political advertising arena. Local advertising is very important to political campaigns, and since Effectv specializes in delivering local and regional TV audiences, political is one of our strongest advertising categories. As such, we have insight into what is working and what isn’t for the category as a whole. So we’re able to act more as consultants to our political clients rather than media sellers. Our focus is always on helping candidates achieve the best possible outcomes and that involves a lot of collaborative strategizing.

During the 2018 midterms, we knew that candidates were going to have to be particularly strategic to break through the crowded field and to reach voters in an increasingly fragmented TV landscape. Of course, fragmentation is something that all Effectv clients face, regardless of advertising category.  The difference with the political category is that they have a limited time period to accumulate reach and make an impact. Major political cycles come every two years, and the concept of slowing growing market share doesn’t really exist. At the end of the campaign, a candidate either wins, or loses. It’s the ultimate measure of ROI.

Fortunately, Effectv has been doing a lot of research and development in The New TV landscape, so we were ready to share these insights with our political advertisers in time for the 2019 political advertising season. We were able to help candidates employ “New TV” tactics to drive better results.


What were some of the specific tactics that drove results?

The new tactics were primarily data-driven and audience-based in nature. This approach helps achieve broad reach while minimizing ad waste.

We found that following the data often leads advertisers to purchase a broader range of networks.  For political advertisers this meant thinking beyond news-focused stations, and branching out to other popular networks that our research determined to be an appropriate fit with a given target audience.  It also meant expanding the daypart mix beyond primetime—the traditional daypart used by political advertisers. And finally, it meant using audience insights to tailor advertisers’ messaging to the audience, which helps the message resonate with potential voters.

We also found that the earlier a candidate began advertising, the higher the win rate. Of course, there is always a balance between starting a campaign early and ensuring that a candidate has enough funds to achieve adequate frequency throughout the entire campaign cycle.  That’s why the added efficiency that comes from a data-based approach to advertising is so valuable in the political category.


In general, what kind of success rates did these new approaches deliver?

Well, of course there are many factors that impact whether or not a candidate wins an election. But that said, we are extremely proud of the work that we did with our political clients for the 2018 midterms. For the over 400 candidates who ran TV advertisements with Effectv, the average win rates were about three times the rates of candidates who did not run TV advertisements with Effectv.


Is there a bottom line take away that you would like to share with future political advertisers?

The takeaway is that while TV has changed, it remains the most powerful vehicle for helping candidates win elections. And, at Effectv, we understand how to use data-driven TV strategies to achieve the best results in The New TV landscape.  We look forward to helping political advertisers apply these strategies now, in 2020, and beyond.


For more information on the political advertising insights from the 2018 midterm election, click here.



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