the european campaign playbook

the playbook on programmatic advertising

by Jim Arkedis

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Social media advertising isn’t everything when it comes to digital political campaigns. Tighter rules and regulations combined with operating system updates mean that political campaigners are looking towards the next innovation in digital advertising. 


I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had over the last few months where a client complains that Facebook’s costs are higher and the targeting is getting worse. Programmatic advertising is a digital ad innovation that can and should be integrated into all serious political and advocacy efforts. This article looks at what programmatic is, how it handles privacy and how it can best be used.


Even though it might seem a new concept for European campaigners, it has been used in the US for years. Programmatic platforms allow campaigners to run ads more across the internet with greater scale, more precise targeting, and richer reporting than other digital ad platforms.

What is programmatic advertising? 

Programmatic advertising is real-time bidding - an auction! - on ad inventory across the internet, no matter the website. If you visit a website on your phone to watch, say, football highlights from the night before, a real-time auction occurs behind the scenes as soon as you open the app or browser; within milliseconds you’re staring at the auction winner’s ad. The technology relies on opt-in cookies and geo-location to identify users, which makes it GDPR-compliant. 

Relying on machine learning and artificial intelligence, programmatic advertising is an audience-first approach that aims to match the targeted audience and advertising inventory on websites at the budget offered by advertisers.

Given that advertisers can serve ads across the entire web, it is of utmost importance to understand who your audience is: their demographics, location, interests, and more, as opposed to just which website they visit. This is the genius of programmatic - our priority is to advertise to the audience wherever they are online and not make assumptions about which websites they probably visit. 

Until now, political campaigns usually buy advertising outside of social media by going directly to web properties. This is costly and inefficient because the campaign pays a premium for advertising space and is making an (often incorrect) assumption about where your target audience hangs out online.


How does it fit with other digital advertising tools? 

There are lots of excellent digital ad tools out there, and the trick is to match each campaigning objective to the platform that best achieves it. 

Facebook, for example, is really good for certain objectives, like finding your core supporters - because they share your values and interests - and asking them to engage with your campaign. So dedicate some budget to Facebook ads to ask your core audience to do things for you: Ask them to sign up for email lists, for donations, to volunteer, to make phone calls, or to knock on doors.

But Facebook is a really bad platform to try to communicate with people who aren’t that interested in politics, the persuadable 5% to 10% who might vote for you in the end, but who might do their best to ignore your messages elsewhere. They will quickly scroll past video ads on Facebook or only watch them for a few seconds, which means the campaign is charged for the view but gets very little impact out of it.

Using its search ads, Google Ads is great for top-of-the funnel conversion tool when people are looking to learn about your campaign. And YouTube will deliver some impact for awareness and persuasion provided you only buy 15-second non-skippable video ads or 6 second bumpers. However, Google’s targeting scale, targeting, and reporting are actually more limited than you’d think.

That’s why programmatic advertising should be part of a comprehensive and diverse digital campaign; it’s laser-focused on two specific objectives: awareness-raising and persuasion. Programmatic ads are best used to target people who aren’t crazy about politics (if you’re reading this, you’re definitely crazy about politics; it’s worth remembering that most of us aren’t). We can use combinations of location, demographics, interests, URLs and more to reach audiences with  - and this is key - 15 and 30 second non-skippable, highly visible video ads. This way, if you want to watch a streaming show, you have to watch our ad first. Our main metric of success is Video Completion Rate, or VCR, and we always aim to have VCR well above 50%, which means that of everyone who starts the video, at least half will see the entire message. This is much higher than is typical on Facebook.

The reporting on programmatic is so rich that you’ll be able to optimize your campaign to improve metrics like VCR in real time.


How does programmatic handle data protection? 

Any programmatic ad professional worth engaging will understand the importance of data protection and brand safety. It’s important that you:

  • Ensure you’re not using personally identifiable information for targeting;
  • Ensure there is transparency - explain what you’re doing, who is partnering with you
  • Confirm that the data location is in the EU
  • Ask about security and data practices
  • Have a conversation with the vendor to ensure that your ads would never serve on sites that promote pornography, alcohol, violence, tobacoo or any other topic that you are uncomfortable with. 

How can I make the best use of this technology? 

  • Programmatic advertising is good for persuasion and for raising awareness. If you have a small local or regional candidate, not known by voters, programmatic can drive up name recognition
  • Invest in content that is creative, high quality, and contains a strong call-to-action (CTA). For videos make sure they are short (<30 seconds), have audio and context.
  • Measure the essential KPIs. Look at the Video Completion Rate (VCR), which should be above 50%, and cost per completed view (CPCV) which should be less than 0,05 Euros  
  • Diversify your platforms by understanding which platforms accomplish which campaign goals. Facebook is good for core supporters and high CTRs, YouTube is good for some video advertising. Programmatic advertising is good to make undecided voters watch your ads in full. It’s also great to target people in a specific geolocation, e.g. around the European Parliament, and target all the elected officials around it. 
  • Be creative. You can read the playbook on running creative campaigns here

How to start in programmatic?

There are many demand-side platforms (DSPs) that offer programmatic inventory, such as TradeDesk, DV360, SmartyAds or others. However, they often charge high minimum spends or lock you into long-term contracts.

However, they are commercial platforms and there’s a big difference whether you’re running ads for Coca-Cola or an MP. Electica is politics-first for campaigners in Europe, which is why we at Electica have our own demand-side platform, ADVocate, a self-serve version of which is coming in early 2022.


Jim Arkedis is an international campaign consultant and the co-founder of Electica.

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