With November 8th only weeks away, we’ve reached the now-or-never moment in political advertising. The worst thing that can happen to a campaign—aside from losing, of course—is to lose with money left on the table. Campaign managers don’t want to spend November 9th wondering who they could have motivated to vote for their candidate at the polls. But political advertisers have to spend wisely. With the stakes as high as they’ve ever been, we can draw inspiration from Billy Beane and his 2002 "Moneyball" season with the Oakland A’s.
For those unfamiliar with this reference, the abridged version goes something like this: after losing three key players in the offseason, Beane was faced with an incomplete roster and a tight budget. Without the money to reel in big names, he looked at the players available to him through a non-traditional lens. Rather than rely on age old stats like stolen bases and batting average, Beane selected players based on stats like on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
What does this have to do with the final inning of this political advertising season? It means political advertisers should take a page out of Beane’s playbook by exploiting market inefficiencies, finding what is undervalued, and zig where others are zagging. Campaign noise is currently cranked to maximum volume, so to break through, advertisers can’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing. Instead, they have to focus on three key areas: cost vs. value, targeting, and the data feedback loop.
Cost vs. value: relievers and minor leaguers
When Beane was faced with rebuilding a team on a budget, he knew that the cost of the lesser known players did not equate to their value. So, he carefully looked at relievers and those from the Minor Leagues rather than costly stars or buzzed-about high school prodigies. Similarly, in these last pivotal days before the election, political advertisers need to consider the true value of what their campaign buys. There are a lot of players on this ad-tech field, and the first question campaigns should ask themselves is: Is this ad buy, ad unit, self-serve platform, in-house media team, or other solution truly proprietary to the partner they’re purchasing it from?
Scarcity should help determine that answer. If it can be found everywhere, it’s not going to help in cutting through the noise. Once a campaign has found a partner that can offer a truly unique product or service, the next step is to ensure that they’re maximizing cost efficiency. The best ways to do that are to drive guaranteed traffic with a CPC price model, or ensure they’re paying market rates with dynamic CPMs. In these last few days, political advertisers need to maximize their budgets.
Targeting: sabermetrics vs. legacy statistics
When choosing lower-profile players, Beane was confident in his non-traditional choices because he relied on data and analytics to ensure that he was making wise investments. In a similar fashion, political campaigns must lean on data for smart targeting. They should approach this in a multi-faceted way: using granular data coupled with data matching and strategic targeting methods.
For the granular approach, campaigns can look to geo-fencing in ZIP codes that will have high value—think poll locations or neighborhoods with high concentrations of ethnic groups that their candidate’s platform serves well. They can also look to the tried-and-true data found in voter files—including leveraging partners who can provide timely custom matches to audience data. The benefit to these smaller, more concentrated, approaches is that they enable advertisers to saturate their audience.
After maxing out granular approaches, campaigns should look to a partner who can provide them with data modeling services so they can scale up and reach a larger audience, with similar, like-minded attributes. With such a short window of time, a mobile-first approach is valuable as it offers a personal, intimate connection to the voter, through a device that is almost always at arm’s reach, in a non-skippable environment.
Data feedback loop: Moneyball Mets
Last year, the Mets won the National League pennant and made it to the World Series with a team built by Beane’s predecessor, Sandy Alderson, using the data analytics of sabermetrics. So as political advertisers work hard these next few weeks to bring this election home, analyzing their campaign success metrics for insights that will inform their next move is paramount.
The easiest way to implement this tactic is to collect data from previous campaigns to understand what worked for their candidate or issue. If it’s clear that an ad is not resonating (low banner click-rates, low rich-media interaction, low video completion rates, etc.) they have to be nimble enough to make changes and try something different. When developing new creative messaging, look to data from publishers and adtech providers to learn what content channels or creative vehicles will have the greatest impact—delivering a messaging quickly and in a native environment will give the user receiving it a better experience than a regular banner. Finally, frequency is an important tool in driving those messages home. Voters are saturated, so employ massive repetitions to ensure messages have recall in the hours and days after.
In just a few weeks time the 2016 World Series will be here, and a week later, we will watch as our nation selects its next president in an election that is sure to be referenced in history books for many firsts. In both baseball and political advertising, you can’t win with a weak performance, so my final advice is to make sure campaign creative sings. Inspiration will be the pinch hitter at the bottom of the ninth. Creative has to be memorable and must zero-in on issues and values that are relevant to voters. Even with all the precise data and targeting available today, if creative falls flat, campaign efforts risk being overrun by competition using more impactful methods. So get out there, lean on data, execute with pride, and play moneyball. The candidates are counting on it.