Connected TV 5 Min Read

Did Connected TV Impact the 2020 Election?

Written by Tim Edmundson

After a lot of vote counting, Joe Biden has been projected to be the next president of the United States. 

The next few days and weeks will be filled with analysis, introspection, and enough election post-mortems to fill a library. They’re likely to find a combination of factors that ultimately led to his victory, however there’s one that advertisers should take special interest in: Connected TV. Its ability as an ad channel to target vital audiences based on interests, demographics, and location are vital to political campaigns and commercial advertisers alike. 

SteelHouse CEO Mark Douglas weighed in on the subject back in June. “The campaigns that learn to use streaming television the best as an advertising vehicle,” said Douglas, “I think are going to have a huge advantage in the 2020 election.” 

That thinking was picked up on by the Biden campaign, who made the call to pivot portions of their TV ad budget to Connected TV earlier this year.

“In the midst of this pandemic we’ve seen unprecedented levels of media consumption,” Patrick Bonsignore, the Biden campaign’s director of paid media told the Wall Street Journal back in early September. “That’s why we are focused on meeting voters where they are now—across devices and in their homes on Connected TV and digital streaming channels.”

That focus paid off in the end—Connected TV’s audience targeting and measurement capabilities proved to be a useful asset in reaching potential voters. And in what turned out to be a tight election across several key swing states, its ability to reach precise voter blocks looked to pay dividends in capturing vital votes. 

What Advantages Did Connected TV Provide? 

We analyzed a number of advantages Connected TV offered candidates who were willing to devote ad spend to the channel in our Guide to Connected TV and the 2020 Election. In an election that came down to voter turnout in key counties and states, these elements would prove to be vital tools for any campaign needing a direct route to reach voters. 

It Taps Into Strongholds | Ads can be served to precise locations, down to the ZIP code, to tap into areas where candidates needed to get out the vote.

It Can Sway Swing Voters | With its access to voter demographic and interest data, campaigns could target voters they needed to convince to come to their side.

It Stretches Ad Budgets | Its precision targeting abilities mean ad budgets were spent solely on voters that matter and make a difference.

It Provides Data in Real-Time | No waiting for polling data. It immediately tracks actions voters take online after seeing an ad, like visiting the candidate’s website.

Connected TV’s Electoral Impact

Connected TV was a prime opportunity in 2020—one that Biden was able to seize. But he wasn’t alone in that regard. Research conducted by SpotX showed that political ad spend increased 900% since April. The Wall Street Journal reported that spending on video ads for the presidential election season rose to $1.8B this year—a 600% increase vs. 2016. 

Political campaigns flocked to Connected TV for some of the very reasons advertisers are doing the same. Instead of running local ads on linear TV based on geography and programming (with not so great time slots), campaigns reach viewers while they stream their favorite TV shows no matter when (or what) they’re watching. That’s because Connected TV ads are sold programmatically, with an audience-first approach. 

Advertisers and political campaigns alike can target the exact shoppers or voters they need to in order to hit their goals, eliminating waste and introducing efficiency to their ad spend. They’re not tied to DMAs like linear television either, but instead offer geographic targeting that can drill down to the ZIP, city, or state level. 

Connected TV Put Social Ads in the Backseat

Social was the flashpoint of political ad controversy back in 2016, but kept a much lower profile this year. Twitter announced a ban on political ads. Facebook initially pledged more oversight of political ads on its platforms, before announcing it would ban them outright in the week leading up to November 3rd and for the foreseeable future afterwards. 

In social’s absence, Connected TV represented a data-fueled way to reach voters with messaging that would prompt voter action. And those viewers could make a difference at the ballot box; research conducted by Magnite found that 70% of registered voters considered “undecided” subscribe to an ad-supported streaming service. The same research found ads on streaming television were more likely to prompt viewers to seek further information about a candidate, and that the ads were more brand-safe for political candidates versus those found on social. 

So Did Streaming Ads Make a Difference?

Ultimately it will be hard to gauge the exact impact Connected TV made in the election. Political campaigns are typically pretty tightlipped about this data so it’s unlikely we’ll get an exact measurement of its influence. But knowing how close the election turned out to be, you have to look to the margins to find what elements gave a candidate the edge. 

Connected TV is an ad channel that offers a direct way to reach valuable audiences on television. Per the New York Times, Biden’s campaign outspent Trump on both linear and Connected TV with a near two-to-one advantage in the final months of the campaign. Specifically, Biden outspent Trump $53M to $17M in three key states—Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—and all three proved to be major contributing factors to Biden winning the election. We all know ads can make a difference, and based on the outcome it’s safe to say they had a role to play here.