The Political Landscape for Programmatic Buyers: How It’s Changed and What You Need to Know


May 21, 2020

Throughout the modern era of advertising, policies and guidelines have been put in place to shield audiences. Restrictions include, but are not limited to, targeting protected audiences, making misleading or false claims and capturing data without consent. For instance, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) are laws that restrict ad targeting based on protected health information or to children under the age of 13 due to the privacy and potential exploitation of the end user. The practice of microtargeting has also been criticized, leading Google to enact required audience size minimums. 

Political advertising is now facing the same scrutiny. Voters must be accurately informed and appropriately targeted to ensure proper debate and fair elections. However, because not all states or adtech platforms agree on how best to achieve this, the current landscape is a hodgepodge of different policies and restrictions.

WHAT IS CHANGING FOR GOOGLE PROPERTIES?

Google still allows political ads but is cracking down on the targeting applied to these campaigns. In the past, Google allowed users to target audiences based on their known political affiliation, as reflected in public voter files. The geo-targeting had to be in the United States and the advertiser had to be verified by Google, but it was still possible. 

On January 6, 2020, Google updated its personalized advertising policy for political ads. They deprecated the U.S. geo-targeting allowance and enforced a global prohibition, which disabled the following targeting from all advertisers on Google’s platforms:

Election ads must still be verified and apply for whitelisting with Google.

Note: Not all DSPs have political audience targeting rules in place, so they will be able to serve ads to third- and first-party audiences across Google Ad Manager and include radius geo-targeting.

WHAT ABOUT OTHER DIGITAL ADVERTISING PLATFORMS?

Google isn’t the only major player who has recently cracked down on their political ad policies. Twitter banned all issue- and cause-based ads as of November 2019 to block buyers from explicitly paying to distribute their political messages. Reason being, they believe the spread of these messages should be “earned, not bought.

On the other hand, Facebook is still allowing all political ads and targeting settings. This may seem like a win for political candidates and causes, but, according to eMarketer research, audiences are hostile to political ads, with 57% strongly agreeing Facebook should ban political ads. (And another 16% who somewhat agree.) This really isn’t too surprising, since Facebook still refuses to fact-check the ads running on their platform. 

Other platforms such as Spotify, TikTok and Snapchat have also released political advertising policies. TikTok joins Twitter in banning political ads altogether. Spotify only allows political ads that are embedded within third-party podcasts. And Snapchat has said it will allow political ads but will be fact-checking their messaging. 

Specific to programmatic, each DSP and SSP has creative and targeting rules in place for every advertiser, including political advertisers. Like Google, The Trade Desk, Adobe and Verizon Media have enacted targeting restrictions for political ads. A spokesperson for The Trade Desk announced they do not allow targeting down to the individual level, and Adobe requires advertisers to supply their own data for targeting. Verizon Media restricts the context or location of an ad if it makes the ad seem misleading or deceptive, but the ad can be geographically and/or demographically targeted. Amazon, on the other hand, has specific guidelines for each section of their platform, but their creative policy, which applies to Amazon’s global display advertising business, bans all political campaigns and content.

GOOGLE DISPLAY & VIDEO 360 TARGETING SOLUTIONS

That’s a long list of things you can’t do when it comes to political advertising, but there are still plenty of options available to political and cause advertisers! And by using Google Display & Video 360 (DV360), you’ll know that you’re reaching the right audiences the right way. Here are a few ways you can use DV360 to optimize your political and cause advertising:

  • Run of Network
      • Achieve strong reach and efficient CPMs across your entire geography without layering on any targeting settings 
  • Contextual and Category targeting
      • Associated political keywords and categories align your messaging to target audiences reading and/or watching stories relevant to your candidate or cause
        • Categories in DV360
          • Popular industries mentioned in political debates and running platforms, such as Pharmaceuticals & Biotech, Energy & Utilities
          • Law & Government
          • News
  • Whitelists and YouTube Channels
      • Serve across left- or-right wing URLs, apps and YouTube Channels
      • Break away from the clutter and serve your message across lifestyle sites
  • Private, Preferred and Guaranteed Deals
      • Apply desired political audience targeting within a Deal ID across valuable exchanges and publishers
      • Lock in premium inventory on associated news sites and content
        • Connatix and GumGum can contextually serve within aligned content across the web
        • CBS, The New York Times, WSJ, POLITICO and Washington Post allow for placement alongside political headlines on leading sites
  • Demographic
      • Political clients can use Google’s age and gender demographic audiences
  • Geography
      • Target zip codes for demographics that can’t be explicitly targeted, such as race, income and education level, or in place of proximity targeting
      • DV360’s geographical analysis tool highlights which zip codes a client’s first-party and combined audience list lives in — this enables political ads to home in on qualified audiences through geo-targeting instead of audience targeting
  • Connected TV
    • Shift from Linear TV to Connected TV to avoid mistargeting with DMAs and allow for state-level targeting. For swing states, it is crucial to focus your effort exactly where it matters and not waste impressions on decided voters in big cities a state over who happen to be in the same DMA as your target audience.

A FEW MORE THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN IT COMES TO POLITICAL ADVERTISING

  • U.S. digital political ad spending will surpass the $1 billion mark for the first time ever during the 2019/2020 political cycle. Due to this high demand, CPMs will likely rise when serving on the typical political inventory each candidate or cause will be vying for. 
  • Non-political advertisers may want to avoid popular political content or go dark altogether around major election dates to keep CPMs low. Some of these dates are as follows but may change due COVID-19:: 
    • Aug. 17-20: Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee
    • Aug. 24–27: Republican National Convention in Charlotte
    • Sept. 29: 1st Presidential Debate (Indiana)
    • Oct. 7: 1st VP Debate (Utah)
    • Oct. 15: 2nd Presidential Debate (Michigan)
    • Oct. 22: 3rd Presidential Debate (Tennessee)
    • Nov. 3: Election Day
  • Brand-safety settings should be adjusted. Appearing next to political content — especially given the comment sections — can subject your client to unwanted alignment.
  • Just because a placement adheres to all standard brand-safety requirements does not mean it will be safe for your client. For instance, serving next to an article that discusses how Facebook will not fact-check their ads may seem harmless to your brand-safety settings, but the placement could make the audience second guess your claims!
  • Many voters want political ads banned, so consider your audience and messaging carefully.

HOW ARE VOTERS BECOMING INFORMED?

To offset the lack of audience knowledge and increase transparency, some platforms have created Transparency Reports and Ad Libraries to highlight who is spending what and how. 

Still not sure you want to take on the new political changes?

We get it. Managing your programmatic media campaigns can be tough to navigate and plan, especially as more policies are put into place. But Adswerve can help! Our Programmatic Team offers managed media services, which can mitigate the need to constantly stay up-to-date and help you innovate while ensuring you deliver impressive results. Contact us to learn more.

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