Though the media often makes it appear that conclusions are clear, the 2016 Presidential Primary War is far from over. The first primary was on February 1, in Iowa, and the last one is on June 14, in Washington D.C. That means we still have three months of this great show. A show so compelling, entertaining, and at times, terrifying, even those ubiquitous Kardashians have taken a backseat in the forum of public scrutiny. It’s the best reality television I’ve seen in a long time.
But we’re not here to explore that. We’re focused solely on the programmatic aspect of our potential presidents’ campaigns. We’ve used KX over the course of the primary season to share results with the programmatic community regarding how campaigns and political action committees have leveraged automated media buying during key periods in the race. Differences between candidates and their backers have emerged and the findings demonstrate programmatic strategy. Through data one can picture teams in a room somewhere hammering out details on pricing, KPIs, preferred publishers, and bidding strategy.
This post focuses on the week leading up to Super Tuesday 2 (March 2 – March 7). During this time period voters decided in Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, and Puerto Rico. Super Tuesday 2 saw elections in Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, and Mississippi.
Spend Before Super Tuesday 2 Showcases Diverse Programmatic Plans
When it came to exchange-wide spend, the candidates were all over the map. Here are the most interesting stories:
- Thrifty Bernie chose to spend only on four key days. The Sanders campaign spent and bought the most impressions on March 6. He bought the fewest impressions of all campaigns/PACs (last week he bought the second lowest number of impressions).
- Hillary’s super PAC unleashed the most spend. Priorities USA made a massive push for Hillary this past week. The super PAC spent 8x more than Hillary’s campaign and bought 128% more impressions.
- Kasich showed just how important Michigan was to him. Like New Hampshire, Kasich saw an opportunity in Michigan. As the Governor of Ohio, a victory in neighboring Michigan seemed plausible to the moderate candidate and as such, he spent significantly from March 2 – March 7. He spent the most on Saturday, March 5 – a day where 60% of his spend during the period accrued. On March 5 he bought 49% of his impressions for the period. March 5 was important to Kasich – he held a Town Hall meeting in Marquette, Michigan, the most populated city of the Upper Peninsula.
- Ted Cruz spent the least of the programmatic candidates. The Republican second-place holder had a light week in the exchange. He spent the most on March 7, the day before Super Tuesday 2. This is the second week in a row where Cruz was the lightest spender. Last week, Cruz’s light spend was less alarming, as Stand for Truth spent the most of all campaigns/PACs. This week, Stand for Truth didn’t buy one meager impression in the exchange. We can read this a few ways: Cruz and Stand for Truth are saving programmatic dollars for specific periods in the race or they’re finding that programmatic might not be working for them. I hope it’s the former, because the latter would be a mistake – if he wants to see his programmatic dollars go further, perhaps he should employ better targeting and experiment with buying higher value inventory. Note: last week Cruz’s CPMs were the lowest in the race.
- Trump’s absence from the programmatic race causes concern. Trump is clearly running an iconoclastic campaign and it’s working for him. That’s fine – he has a big name and he gets an inordinate amount of mainstream media coverage. For a programmatic proponent, it raises concerns about how the campaign is using data to make decisions. If Trump were to go on and get the presidential nomination, he’ll need to craft messages that will speak to myriad segments of users. To get the messages to them, a data-driven media buying plan is required, run by a team that can manage all the plan entails. It doesn’t seem that Trump yet has that in his golden, great, and fantastic court.
How Private Marketplaces Factored In
The private marketplace is programmatic’s higher end. Inventory within private marketplaces usually offer some premium to buyers – be it around providing viewable inventory, proprietary audience segments, or full run of sites. We pulled data on private marketplace spend from March 1 to March 8 to see how the private marketplace has factored into the programmatic race. Here’s what we found:
- Cruz’s PMP bullishness proves programmatic is key to the campaign. Despite spending the least of the candidates in March to date, Cruz has spent the most of all campaigns and PACs within private marketplaces. The candidate’s PMP spend was 6x higher than the second biggest PMP spender, Rubio’s Conservative Solutions Super PAC. Most of Cruz’s PMP spend is through GOP media targeting platform Targeted Victory. Targeted Victory’s involvement in the campaign and Cruz’s high March PMP spend suggests that Cruz is not slowly shrinking out of the programmatic battle, instead, he’s gearing up for future periods in the primary race.
- Rubio could be in a PMP bidding war with Cruz. Rubio’s private marketplace CPMs were the highest of all candidates during the month of March. They were 21% higher than Cruz’s. The data shows Cruz and Rubio are buying in the same private marketplaces, and Rubio’s higher clear price suggests a war between Cruz, Stand for Truth and Rubio is unfolding in the private market.
- Kasich continued to show programmatic prowess. After Cruz the candidate that spent the most in the private marketplace was John Kasich. Though he spent a mere 16% of what Cruz did, the Ohio Governor outspent Rubio by 2x in the private market. His PMP CPMs were second-highest in the race, after Rubio. Perhaps he too is locked in a bidding war with PMP-loving Cruz.
- Hillary had the lowest PMP spend. This is a kernel of information that speaks to the strategy we’ve seen Hillary employ since January. Hillary’s campaign is about buying less expensive impressions, and buying lots of them. She’s not targeting as much as the other campaigns via programmatic, which speaks to the ethos of her campaign in general. As the Democratic front runner, she wants to reach as many eyeballs for as little as possible, and has had success doing so in the open market.
Pricing Indicates Inventory Value and Bernie’s Still On Top
An indicator of the relationship between overall spend and impressions, the average CPM with which a campaign or PAC is trading tells a story on the types of inventory it’s buying and how competitive said inventory is. Campaigns and PACs have largely stayed in the same pricing neighborhood each week – some campaigns are on the higher end and some have remained lower. The overall average CPM was slightly lower this week than last, but we saw some interesting differences within the campaigns.
- Bernie’s CPMs are still sky high. This story is only gaining steam. The Sanders campaign has repeatedly had some of the highest CPMs in the race, since we’ve covered the race. Sanders’ CPMs were 26% higher than last week’s, adding a little over $3. Sanders was on the hunt for a Michigan victory this week, so when he did buy, his prices cleared quite high. This shows the value of the inventory he’s buying – he is likely targeting premium pubs, buying viewable, and targeting expensive segments.
- Priorities USA is making up for Clinton’s lack of targeting. Hillary’s Super PAC had the second highest prices in the race, which shows Priorities USA is going after more competitive or valuable inventory than the Clinton campaign.
- Rubio’s prices are on the rise. Rubio’s average CPM jumped $1.74 this past week as the fading Republican candidate aims to pick up a few wins. This is likely a function of Rubio’s battle with Kasich and Cruz in the private marketplace. Also, the Florida primary next week is huge for the candidate, so we expect to see even higher prices next week accompanied by more spend.
- Cruz bought inexpensive impressions with the little he spent. Cruz has never been a buyer of expensive inventory – last week he had the lowest average CPM in the battle and this week his average CPM dropped $0.38 from $1.42 to $1.04. Based on these low prices, we believe he’s largely going after below the fold inventory on mid-market publishers’ sites. He seemingly likes it at the bottom of the programmatic barrel with Clinton. No judgment – they’re playing an impression game, not necessarily one of impact.
Geotargeting Was Focused On ‘The Rust Belt’
In the week before Super Tuesday 2, a handful of candidates targeted users by state. See the graph below for share of spend by state. We selected the states in which significant spend occurred.
- Bernie showcased the importance and value of targeting. Bernie outspent Hillary significantly in Massachusetts last week and he did it again this week targeting users in Michigan. Sanders spent 20x more than Hillary spent in Michigan and double the spend of Priorities USA. This and his continuously high CPMs support our theory that Bernie is more focused on targeting than his opponent Clinton.
- Super PACs dominated in key states. The Super PACs were the big geotargeters this past week. Conservative Solutions accounted for 80% of the spend in Florida and 24% of spend in Michigan. Priorities USA owned 93% of Illinois spend, a whopping 97% of North Carolina’s, and 46% of spend targeting users in Ohio. Priorities USA is ready for March 15 and is making sure Hillary’s message gets to users in the next key states.
- Michigan was the most geotargeted state. Spend targeting users in Michigan was the most balanced of the states we examined this week. The biggest spenders there were Kasich, Sanders, and pro-Rubio Conservative Solutions. In terms of targeting and focus on important wins, Kasich and Sanders are running similar programmatic campaigns – they ramp up spend before must-wins and focus on targeting users in those geos. Good for them and the smart programmatic teams working with them.