Why CTV May Decide Who Wins the White House – and the Fate of the Medium

White House on deep blue sky background

Political advertisers are betting big on CTV’s targeting power for the 2024 elections, and its performance could significantly influence the future of television advertising.

Many marketers are – let’s say – generally excited about the promised targeting power of CTV. 

Yet, for political advertisers, many are staking their careers on this burgeoning new medium.

Indeed, candidates can’t wait for CTV to sort out all of its fundamentals in the near future. They can’t set aside some ‘test and learn’ budgets while hoping that all the targeting tools, identifiers, and post-cookie offerings that CTV has dangled — producing the ultimate combination of precision targeting and big screen branding — get put in place.

Rather, politicians have a high-stakes race to run now. And if they lose – they don’t just slip behind in market share. Their brand goes out of business (for four years at least).

The stakes don’t get higher than a race for the White House. But, because the 2024 races should also provide the ultimate test case for this still unfinished medium, the stakes couldn’t be much higher for the business of television advertising either. 

Whether CTV ad targeting can deliver on its campaign promises in 2024 will have huge ramifications for the industry.

What CTV Needs To Prove To Persuade the 2024 Vote

Given the macro shifts in media consumption, political candidates – typically among those without the larger media budgets-  cannot afford to lean on linear-TV-centric playbooks of the past. Today’s voters are ‘Streaming.’ 

However, CTV still needs to prove it can influence voter behavior and election outcomes this year. The good news is that thanks to the adoption of ad-supported tiers by many top streaming services and the expanded availability of FAST platforms, there is far more CTV ad inventory and reach available to political advertisers than just a few years ago.

More importantly, CTV is uniquely equipped to drive tangible outcomes that candidates care about (besides votes on election day), such as site visits, sign-ups, and donations. Increasingly, a new crop of researchers and ad technology companies can tie TV exposure to spikes in web searches, mobile downloads, and transactions.

The key will be for CTV’s targeting capabilities to come through by reaching the right, ideally persuadable, swing voters. That means hitting crucial voting segments in the right neighborhoods or clusters of DMA’s to push voters to the polls.

In addition, CTV will be crucial for connecting with the hard-to-reach yet highly influential Gen Z voters, most of whom are streaming-first, cord-TV viewers. The same can be said for underserved minority voters, who are likely to consume niche streaming content. 

Considering the ability of these groups to potentially sway this election, it’s fair to ask — can politicians holistically impact all necessary groups across the CTV ecosystem, both in reach and investment? 

Is It the Creative? 

The CTV ad tactic that could have the most impact on political campaigns this year is its long-touted ability to deliver a wide range of different TV ads to different target constituents. This kind of creative variation in CTV has been chiefly theoretical, as many brands continue to run their general TV spots in streaming environments. 

However, given the issue-driven nature of their campaigns, political advertisers can and should take advantage of this opportunity by delivering unique messages – tied to specific causes – to distinct audiences in a very nuanced way.

To help, there are also more impactful creative options in CTV vs. traditional linear, such as QR codes, picture-in-picture units, and other interactive strategies that can be used to achieve performance results among a range of constituencies. 

Politics – And CTV – Are Not for the Faint of Heart

Of course, given that the CTV advertising ecosystem is still in its infancy, candidates who decide to spend aggressively on this vehicle face plenty of potential pitfalls.

Brand safety is of utmost importance for many marketers, yet they are still working through protection mechanisms and technologies common to digital advertising in CTV. If an unwelcome ad adjacency is a nightmare for the average CMO, it could prove fatal to the wrong political campaign.

Plus, this time, campaign managers have to worry about not just keeping their messages away from unsavory or inappropriate content – but also the inevitable rise in misinformation, thanks mainly to the increased adoption of generative AI.

The more that the ‘bad guys’ figure out how to exploit this tech to spread falsehoods, the more that social media platforms, in particular, will have to fight an arms race while trying to keep candidates out of trouble. 

As a result, CTV has an opportunity to provide a more regulated environment – as long as streaming platforms and their ad tech partners can create reliable safeguards.

The Race (For Media Supremacy) Is On

Just as the pandemic accelerated many shifts in consumer behavior and subsequent advertising strategies, this year’s highly contested election could serve to pour jet fuel on an already red hot medium – or a bucket of cold water. Candidates essentially have no choice but to dive right in and make a big bet on the medium’s supposed unmatched set of capabilities. How that bet goes could sway many future advertisers to quickly look to emulate the 2024 winners’ CTV ad tactics – or to put on the brakes. It’s incumbent on the industry as a whole to execute and deliver. Whichever candidates win, if CTV is considered key to their success – the entire medium should soar.