"AdExchanger Politics" is a weekly column tracking developments in the 2016 political campaign cycle.
Today’s column is written by JC Medici, national director of politics and advocacy at Rocket Fuel.
The idea of a third-party vendor is nothing new, especially as new technologies are developed and attention spans shrink. Every day, more options materialize to give us the answers to all of life’s problems with just the click of a button.
Take the hospitality industry, for example. Today we have hotel and flight aggregators that conveniently lay out thousands of options at once. Even before the internet took over the world, travel agents could jump in and save travelers hours of research and planning.
The same is true for programmatic politics, with third-party consultants and firms that help candidates execute their media plans. These firms serve as the middleman between the candidate and the technology used to implement the creative, by linking them to a product, service or information. With this particular election cycle, we saw firsthand that a number of candidates, consultants and agencies were highly dependent upon other agencies to help them. More often than not, candidates selected these agencies based on their partisanship, keeping nonpartisan technologies at bay.
While the third-party vendors will live on in many industries, this is not the case for programmatic politics. Campaigns are no longer linear, so brands rely on the technology partner more than ever to execute across a number of platforms. We may have reached a point where buying media in the simplest and cheapest way outweighs party affiliation.
Leaving Behind The Middleman?
Moving forward, there will certainly be more opportunities for political campaigns to start working directly with technology companies. The sophistication of the political market increases with every cycle, allowing campaigners to be more comfortable and adept at running digital campaigns on their own. As this understanding grows, it may not be necessary to have someone in the middle consulting on how to execute that media plan on your behalf.
There will still be a time and place for advisers or third-party consultants to provide technology recommendations for those less adept, but those who know who they want to talk to, which voters they want to reach and how they want to do it don’t need a middleman who may not even be as technologically savvy as they are to execute their digital campaigns.
Some third-party consultants and firms also often mark up costs even though they might be using the same technology a campaign can access directly through the vendor. In many cases, a bump in costs affects the number of opportunities for earned impressions, decreasing the likelihood of a successful campaign.
The Issue With Trust
If someone asked me to tell them what one thing politics and digital advertising have most in common, I would immediately say they both have trust and transparency issues.
As these two sectors converge, it’s not uncommon for a firm to associate itself with one side of the aisle or the other. These firms will tell the market that they only use Democrat- or Republican-associated technology vendors in an effort to encourage candidates to use their services. In reality, a firm may be using a number of white-labeled technologies from a variety of vendors that aren’t partisan at all, thus burdening two already untrustworthy industries with even more dishonesty and doubt.
Digital advertising can be complicated to those who aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of the technology. Politics are already complicated on their own and this current presidential election has not been short on unexpected twists, to say the least.
Each campaign should use the method or technology that works best for its needs. If a campaign doesn’t understand the technology or know what it wants, they should use a third party but research all the facts upfront, especially with issues of transparency circling. Most importantly, this should be another cry to the industry to bring transparency back where we can and make the necessary changes for trust in programmatic politics moving forward.