}

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Online and in homes


The world of election advertising has changed a lot over the years, and while television ads were once the most important way to reach voters, there are now other, often more important ways. Online advertising is beginning to overtake television advertising in a big way. I expect that trend to continue.

To be sure, TV ads still matter: There are some people who don’t use the Internet very much (or at all), and may not see online advertising. Still, it’s quite common nowadays to do full webpage adverting on a news site—the modern equivalent of an old newspaper wraparound ad. Sometimes these are animated, too, or contain animated parts.

But the most interesting work is happening in messaging directed toward social media users in the broadest sense of the term. Because I support the New Zealand Labour Party, I’ll use their work as an example—and also because they have an extensive marketing effort going on.

The video up top is actually a YouTube Playlist I made of all the quite short policy-related ads Labour has posted so far (as of today). I often see these ads before a YouTube video plays, and this is the perfect medium: Google knows a LOT about YouTube users, and it can steer particular ads to particular demographics, which is why I’ve seen “Jacinda on Labour's policies for over-60s” a couple times. While I’m personally more interested in other issues, Google’s algorithms tell them I’m in the target market for that ad—and, in fact, they’re not wrong: I’ll turn 60 during the next term of government, whoever leads it.

Over on Facebook, the party has an animated header on their Facebook Page, and they buy ads that frequently show up in my newsfeed, and for the same reason I see their ads at the start of YouTube videos I watch, only in this case, specific ads are delivered because of Facebook’s algorithms, which are not necessarily measuring the same things as Google’s do. This is in addition to any videos they share, which I see because I “Like” their page and follow their updates. Sometimes those have been the TV ads I already shared.

Candidates are also posting videos, showing themselves and their team out on the campaign trail, talking about issues, etc—essentially bringing their campaigns to people in their own homes. For example, Shanan Halbert, the Labour candidate for the Northcote Electorate (and—full disclosure—a friend of mine) has been sharing video to his Facebook Page, and it’s been great to see the actual campaign, especially since we don’t live there anymore.

What all this ads up to is that Labour has a presence all over social media, including YouTube, which is also where younger voters can be found—people who usually don’t vote. If Labour can motivate them to vote, as well as increasing its vote among other demographics, it has a real chance of winning this election. Add this effort to all the other traditional methods—TV ads, public rallies, Leaders’ Debates, and all the stuff done by volunteers from doorknocking, to phone canvassing, to sign waving, and the campaign is trying hard to reach as many voters as possible.

To be sure, other parties are doing this, too. I’ve seen some Green Party ads, as well as Gareth Morgan’s “The Opportunities Party” (though I keep skipping TOP’s ads on YouTube…), but nothing from any other party, including National. It’s possible that I don’t see National Party ads in my Facebook newsfeed because of those algorithms again, and I may not have seen any of their ads on YouTube for the same reason (but this time Google’s algorithms, of course). Or, maybe they’re just not running any—I have no idea which it is, but they’re not running TV ads as much as Labour are, either. There are also a few parties that haven’t run any TV ads as far as I know (because I haven’t seen or heard of any ads, and they’re not on YouTube). This, too, is a change.

I was expecting that there’d be more TV ads to share and talk about, and maybe there still will be some. But at the moment the real story about campaign promotion—and some of the most interesting stuff out there—is being done online. I expect that trend to continue.

Disclosures: I’m a supporter of the New Zealand Labour Party, but have no position of any kind with them, nor am I in contact with party leaders. All opinions expressed are entirely my own, based on more than 40 years closely following election campaigns.

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