A version of this article was originally published on AdExchanger in their weekly politics column.
Television and American politics have had a symbiotic relationship for more than 60 years, beginning with the “I Like Ike” ads in 1952. Not much has changed since then. More networks host debates and candidates run more ads, but their reliance on television has stayed the same. The problem is, television is not the far-reaching political medium it used to be. And political campaigns have lagged in keeping pace with today’s media consumption habits.
More people, for example, are cutting the cable cord: Pay-TV providers lost a staggering 625,000 subscribers in the second quarter of last year, followed by nearly another 200,000 in Q3. Simultaneously, over-the-top (OTT) streaming services are surging in popularity as an alternative, particularly among millennials. These same young people are simply not getting their news from television anymore and are overwhelmingly choosing digital outlets as their favorite options.
Despite these massive shifts, political campaigns continue to make television the centerpieces of their media strategies. It’s been predicted that campaigns will set new records in television ad spend in 2016. But candidates like Jeb Bush, who spent a whopping $2,888 per vote in Iowa on television ads, and Mike Huckabee, who spent more than $2 million on Iowa television ads, did incredibly poorly in the state. Even Hillary Clinton, who ran television ads in Iowa since August, barely squeaked out a win over her competitor, Bernie Sanders, who focused his attention on digital advertising.
The American electorate is changing its media consumption habits, and political campaigns’ advertising strategies need to change with them. Having a digital video strategy that supports cross-platform and cross-device viewing should be table stakes for every politician, but many of today’s candidates have not gone far enough to effectively leverage digital media.
I see two critical ways political campaigns can modernize to better fit the preferences of today’s voters.
Invest In Mobile-First Social Platforms
Instead of relying so heavily on expensive television spots, candidates should capitalize on mobile engagement by creating microform video advertising for social and mobile platforms that delivers their message concisely and effectively.
Television advertising is already beginning to irritate voters, but mobile-first social platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat, are proving to be one of the most effective mediums for political advertising this election season. A recent survey from Global Strategy Group found that social media is not only the primary source of digital election news for millennials, but those on Snapchat are more likely to vote than millennials as a group.
Great social videos should be formatted for a mobile screen and under 60 seconds, and should convey the message without sound if necessary. Most Republican candidates have done little to leverage mobile social platforms, besides the omnipresent conversation about Trump, but Democratic candidates are seeing success with proactive digital campaigns. Clinton’s team regularly posts snackable, silent videos on Instagram that convey her campaign message clearly and succinctly.
The Sanders campaign made mobile and digital the centerpieces of its Iowa advertising strategy and saw massive success. Some think his nine-day Snapchat geofilter campaignleading up to the caucuses helped to push him toward a virtual tie with Clinton.
Work With A Digital Powerhouse To Host A Presidential Debate
Debates are a critical way for voters to compare candidate platforms, but with the shift of attention from television to digital outlets, there is an opportunity to reach a fresh, larger audience.
Moreover, many people watching televised debates aren’t giving them their full attention. Per the Global Strategy Group survey, 73% of millennials use a mobile device to check digital platforms during debates. Political parties should take advantage of this by taking debates to the platforms where today’s voters are actually getting their news.
Mass live-streaming video wasn’t possible in 2012, but with Yahoo streaming NFL games, it’s clear the technology has advanced to make digital live streaming commonplace. Some strides have already been made here. YouTube live streamed a debate in partnership with NBC, for example, and CNN showed the Democratic debate in New Hampshire on its website.
In both cases, however, television was still the primary medium. Instead, political parties should look to partner directly with a digital-first publication, streaming service or social media influencer, such as BuzzFeed, Hulu or Facebook, for an official debate. A digital debate would leverage the digital powerhouse’s necessary technological infrastructure to stream the program on voters’ computers, mobile devices and streaming boxes.
The apogee of the 6 o’clock news has long since passed. In its place are thousands of digital publications and social media sites that deliver news to consumers anytime and anywhere. Today’s digital media landscape represents a massive opportunity for candidates to connect more directly with voters in new and engaging ways – and it may be winner-takes-all for the candidate who capitalizes on it best.