Spend is volatile, strategies are often counter intuitive, and programmatic maturity is diversified.
Much like the election itself, the programmatic battle is an interesting one to watch. At this point in the race we have two clear front runners – Donald Trump on the Republican side and Hillary Clinton for the Democrats – with no clear idea of what’s to come. These two front runners are household names and have been for decades, which makes programmatic’s role in the election a tricky one.
Let’s say, for instance, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were household brands (which, in essence, they are), like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. A programmatic campaign for a brand nearly universally known would use programmatic to increase reach by promoting new product developments (i.e. gluten-free or organic varietals) and nurture its loyal customer base with targeted special offers. But everyone loves Mac and Cheese. For these front runners, the story is widely different – they have and continue to use programmatic in completely the wrong way.
Since we began to cover the programmatic race, we’ve noticed Clinton’s campaign is buying cheap impressions by the bucketful. That’s usually an awareness play – but Hillary has awareness. And Trump has been absent from the programmatic marketplace since day 1. He too has the awareness, but if I were him I’d be using programmatic to drum up some likeability with the general public. If Trump does indeed go on to become the Republican nominee, the day his name appears in our exchange will be a good day for the Trump campaign.
Though we question the programmatic approach of the two front runners, the laggards in the race and the Super PACs show more prowess. We’re at a key point in the race – front runners are looking more and more like nominees as they continue to gobble up delegates across the nation. For the laggards, it’s now or never and the way they’ve spent shows acute awareness of this fact.
This post covers the period leading up to ‘Super Tuesday 3’, which was held on March 15 and saw elections from five battleground states – Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio.
Spend and Impressions Before Super Tuesday 3
Last week, Kasich and Clinton were the biggest spenders, respectively. It was a light week for Cruz and Sanders. This week we saw the Super PACs return to dominance and witnessed volatility on the candidate side. Specifically:
- Priorities USA and Conservative Solutions were at the top for spend and impressions. These two super PACs were loud the week leading up to Super Tuesday 3. Priorities USA had the highest political spend and Conservative Solutions was close, clocking in 89% of Priorities’ total spend. The impression battle between the two was a bit different – Rubio-backing Conservative Solutions bought the most impressions in the race, while Priorities came in second, buying a little less than a third of Conservative Solutions’ total impressions. Given the importance of this week for Florida Senator Marco Rubio, his super PAC wanted awareness and was willing to pony up to get it. Clinton-backing Priorities USA bought higher quality inventory with its sizeable spend suggesting it is making up for the lack of Clinton’s targeting and less expensive taste.
- Ted Cruz spent nearly 12x more this week than last. After an effective absence in the exchange last week, Cruz increased spend 11.54x more this week over last. Politically, in close second after Trump, he pined for an influx of delegates in the winner take all battles in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio. Unfortunately for Cruz, the increased programmatic spend didn’t deliver a victory, but he’s still in the race. We expect to see a bigger push from Cruz next week now that competitor Rubio’s done.
- Thrifty Bernie made a big push and took a page from Hillary’s book. The Sanders campaign has historically shown an appetite for higher quality impressions – his CPMs have always been at the top compared to the others. Much like last week, Sanders didn’t spend on March 9 and March 10: perhaps his camp doesn’t want to inundate voters with his messages and aims to allow digestion time after each major primary. He ramped up spend slowly this week, spending most on March 12 and March 14. However, on Super Tuesday 3, March 15, he spent the most of all candidates and we saw more spend from Bernie than we’ve seen on any given day in the election. What’s more – on March 14 and 15 he abandoned his quest for high value inventory and went the Clinton-route, buying tons and tons of impressions at really low prices. A last ditch effort to expand his base?
- Rubio relied on Conservative Solutions. Poor Rubio – after a humiliating loss in his home state of Florida on March 15 and less than impressive vote counts in the other races, the Republican senator scaled back before scaling out. His spend was 39% lower than last week’s, while his super PAC Conservative Solutions increased spend 137%. As the bulk of Conservative Solutions ads are Trump-attack ads, this was an interesting ploy. Rubio’s campaign should have ramped up spend during this key period and gone with that positive message American voters are seemingly ravenous for.
- Kasich showcased a new tactic. Kasich has impressed us throughout the race – spending before key periods (i.e. before primaries in which he had a chance) and embracing geotargeting. He still geotargeted (more on that later), but he spent temperately and went for impressions over high-quality inventory. As the Ohio Governor is now the third in the race, we’re excited to see how his tactics change before Arizona, Wisconsin, and New York.
Rubio’s CPMs Jump and Bernie Drops From the Top Spot
The average CPM a campaign or super PAC trades with indicates a value of the inventory and competition with other bidders. If there are a number of buyers competing for the same inventory, the prices face upward pressure and will clear higher. Average CPMs this week were higher almost across the board. The Sanders campaign relinquished its top spot to Rubio, due to the purchase of buckets of impressions at lower costs on March 14 and March 15. Rubio did not go quietly into that dark night, no, he had the highest average CPM of any candidate or super PAC that we’ve seen in any week since January 1, 2016.
The two tables below depict average CPMs for the period between March 9-14, and March 15. Note Bernie’s presence at the bottom with nemesis Clinton on Super Tuesday 3.
Super PACs Focus on Geotargeting, While Most Campaigns After General Population
We started looking at how campaigns and super PACs target users in specific states before the first Super Tuesday and each week we’ve been surprised at how low the spend is toward these important demographics. While the bulk of candidate spend is focused on the general American audience, the entities have shown diversity in the importance of geotargeting.
Unsurprisingly, Kasich spent the most targeting users in Ohio in the week before Super Tuesday 3. As his home state, he was likely sending messages of “Hey! Remember me?” and reminders to vote. Rubio’s campaign spent virtually nothing in Florida, while his super PAC Conservative Solutions picked up the slack with the majority of Florida-targeted spend. Bernie showed strong use of geotargeting by accounting for a proportion of geotargeted spend in Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio. Cruz was thirsty for Missouri.
The graph below totals all geotargeted spend to 100. The spend of each campaign is shown as a proportion of the total spend targeted to users in each state. So, if $20,000 went to Ohio, for example, Kasich spent 65% of that $20,000.