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For political media buyers, this election season isn’t going to be plain sailing

Two businesspeople standing on an oversized megaphone in rough waters look towards the Capitol Building shining on the shore.

Illustration by Nick DeSantis / Getty / Shutterstock / The Current

The 2024 election cycle presents a challenge akin to treasure hunting with an outdated map. Every year, campaigns use data to predict where audiences are headed and make a plan to find them in an increasingly fractured media landscape. But much like a grizzled captain steering through treacherous waters, many campaigns are looking out at the horizon and seeing a storm ahead.

Projections from Insider Intelligence paint a vivid picture: Campaign ad spending is set to surge by nearly a third this cycle, to a staggering $12.3 billion. While traditional broadcast still commands the lion’s share at 72%, digital ad expenditure is poised to triple, reaching $3.5 billion — reflecting the evolving habits of Americans who split their viewing time across streaming video, connected TV and mobile platforms.

And here lies the conundrum: Pouring resources into specific channels may no longer guarantee that political marketers reach their coveted voters, let alone inspire them to actually vote. We know voters and consumers access content across several devices, making it difficult to see the whole picture. The fragmented nature of media consumption, which has been exacerbated by the proliferation of streaming services, poses a risk of reaching some audiences way too much and others not at all.

With many elections likely to be decided by a few hundred or thousand voters, it is a dangerous proposition to leave reaching those voters to chance. Alternatively, it would be problematic to waste thousands of dollars reaching the same audience many more times than is needed.

This belies the ironic place we modern media buyers find ourselves in: We have more data than ever about consumption, but it’s coming from disconnected sources. The challenge in using it effectively continues to grow, given the tendency among campaigns and media buyers to keep linear (i.e., traditional TV, radio) and digital advertising budgets separate.

"With tens of thousands of voters in a few states potentially swinging the presidency and control of Congress, every ad dollar must deliver targeted, relevant content."

To bridge these gaps, GMMB has created two integrated advertising tools designed to steer campaigns towards success. Axis Insight™ empowers campaigns with comprehensive data from diverse sources, enabling informed decisions and optimized spending across various media. Meanwhile, Axis IQ™ offers more transparency in integrated video ad campaigns, providing real-time insights into audience reach, frequency, demographics, and more.

These sorts of tools can be instrumental in helping secure victory in a fiercely contested election year like 2024. Consider the case of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's triumph in Michigan last cycle. By leveraging GMMB’s tools, her campaign team was able to determine that, during one measurement period, 42% of target households had seen her TV ads, while 58% had seen digital ads, with only 14% seeing both. The campaign was then able to target these voters with content they hadn’t already seen. Armed with granular insights, Whitmer's team also adeptly countered opposition messaging with relevant content to audiences who had seen specific messages, ensuring their narrative reached key audiences.

In an era where elections can hinge on razor-thin margins, precision is paramount. With tens of thousands of voters in a few states potentially swinging the presidency and control of Congress, every ad dollar must deliver targeted, relevant content.

As campaign teams search for voters across a plethora of platforms over the next six months, the ones that have a view of the entire media landscape will be able to shift valuable resources quickly and strategically. The ones that are stuck looking through the narrow lens of individual tactics will always find themselves adrift, lacking voters and results — which could have catastrophic consequences on election day.

This op-ed represents the views and opinions of the author and not of The Current, a division of The Trade Desk, or The Trade Desk. The appearance of the op-ed on The Current does not constitute an endorsement by The Current or The Trade Desk.