With the 2016 presidential race in its earliest stages and first caucuses nearly eight months away, Republican campaigns are frantically staking out the most valuable online ad space.
This mad dash on the Internet ahead of 2016 is having one unexpected effect, says Shane Goldmacher of the National Journal: prized digital real estate is quickly running out.
“We’re starting to sell out on certain political leanings, for inventory targeting likely voters in the New Hampshire primary,” says Kenny Day, head of Yahoo’s political-advocacy sales in Washington.
“If the Internet can seem a vast and endless space for potential ads,” Goldmacher writes, “the universe of premium spots for political campaign ads is actually far narrower … what’s selling fast are the kind of ads that automatically play on Hulu, YouTube, and other Web-based videos and that users can’t skip past.”
Yes, there were similar digital-ad shortages in the lead-up to both 2012 and 2014, but strategists say it has never been so far in advance. It’s not even the summer of 2015 and inventories for winter 2016 are selling out. Ads are being reserved for as far out as November.
Iowa and New Hampshire – the two states that lead the 2016 nominating process – are where the rush is being felt most.
“Iowa and New Hampshire are not the biggest states in the world, and there are so many people who are interested in getting that inventory,” GOP digital strategist Peter Pasi tells the Journal.
Parsi, a campaign veteran who is now a vice president at Collective in charge of political sales, says the movement is exacerbated by the huge GOP field so far.
With nearly 20 Republicans in the race, or at least considering a run – and many with super PAC backing — the coming scarcity of available ad space holds few surprises.
“I think there’s going to be a huge shortfall,” Pasi forecasts.
There will always be ad space available at the last minute. Facebook auctions its video ads, making it difficult for campaigns to set budgets and reserve space so far in advance. YouTube does the same for skippable ads, so organizations can expect prices to rise.
But the most coveted ads – those a user cannot skip over – are being gobbled up well ahead of time. And a few prime news services are rising to the top of the list.
For campaigns scheduling ads, Goldmacher says there is little downside to a rush this early. Reservations can be canceled, usually with little or no cost. Going rates for premium video ads vary, from as little as $15 to over $30 per 1,000 views.
Digital ads are appealing in primaries and caucuses for the ability to target exact viewers. In the 2012 Iowa caucuses, only 121,000 Republicans showed up. Iowa’s total population is 3 million. Statewide broadcast TV buys in Iowa will reach far more non-caucus-goers than those who vote. Broadcast ad buys in New Hampshire also cover Boston, Portland, and Burlington markets — an enormous waste of money on non-participating viewers in Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont.
Another benefit of online advertising is in reporting. Television ad buys are disclosed in Federal Communications Commission reports after they are booked while digital ad sales are reported as campaign expenses, often months after running.
Goldmacher writes the reporting rules offer a “cloak-and-dagger quality,” making it difficult to identify which campaigns are spending what on digital real estate.