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Programmatic Advertising as the Digital Frontier (Part 2)

For reaching voters and lurkers

In the face of war and political upheaval, programmatic advertising, as a technological force, is gradually coming to the forefront, becoming a winning strategy for candidates. How to responsibly engage in the advertising market or avoid involvement in digital activism has become the primary consideration for major SSPs and DSPs. Digital activism is no longer an unfamiliar term; it can be considered as any form of digitized activism and political participation, with its impact being diverse.

When the targeting capabilities of programmatic advertising are brought into the battleground of digital activism, it becomes a potent weapon in the struggle for narrative control. It helps shape the direction of public opinion flow rather than indiscriminately bombarding information.

No one can underestimate the crucial role of programmatic advertising in major elections. Through in-depth analysis and precise targeting, programmatic advertising successfully delivers campaign messages to potential target voters, emerging as a powerful tool in shaping voter opinions. As voter turnout continues to decline, candidates face a common challenge: how to attract target voters who support their policies to the polling stations; otherwise, all efforts may go in vain. The deeper issue lies in ensuring that their campaigns effectively reach these target voters - and this is precisely where the strength of programmatic advertising lies.

Taking Trump and Sanders as examples, their target voters have markedly different characteristics and concerns. Trump's supporters primarily include legal, skilled immigrants and the middle to lower-income population, while Sanders' targets are mainly young people who harbor resentment towards the middle class and women.

Guided by programmatic advertising, different target voters are accurately identified and receive personalized messages, becoming a powerful tool in supporting candidates' campaigns. Even when logged into the same website, on the same interface, DSP platforms ensure that each target voter with different backgrounds, incomes, races, beliefs, and ages is exposed to different campaign advertisements. What they see is a real-time analysis of the candidates most likely to win their votes, all made possible by programmatic technology.

The support of programmatic technology allows candidates to solidify their base in their strong electoral states and strategically allocate advertising budgets. With a considerably smaller budget compared to the pre-big data era, they can invest more in advertising in swing states. This approach frees them from the constraints of uncontrollable factors in traditional promotion strategies, enabling precise and real-time presentation of slogans that can resonate with potential voters in those key areas.

The figure below illustrates the political programmatic advertising expenditures across various channels/platforms during the U.S. elections from 2018 to 2022. It can be observed that in 2022, Connected TV (CTV) accounted for approximately 30% of political programmatic advertising spending in the United States. Since the 2020 U.S. election cycle, there has been a significant increase in ad purchases on CTV, with the device commanding 19% of total political programmatic ad expenditures at that time. On the other hand, compared to 2020, there has been a decrease in the proportion of spending on mobile and desktop advertising during the 2022 U.S. midterm elections.


Voters can effectively be seen as a collective of individual citizens, with each citizen measurable and assessable on a personal level. The big data from social networks enables a more precise microscopic measurement and analysis of individual voters. The addition of Millennials has made programmatic advertising on social networks crucial. Meanwhile, CTV not only facilitates micro-targeting on social media but also makes accurate and effective contributions in swing states.

Programmatic Ads as a Political Business

Presidential elections are both a fierce and splendid game and a high-investment, high-return business. Programmatic advertising is increasingly playing a crucial role on social and video platforms, which is an inevitable trend in its own development. How to effectively use data and the internet for political business is becoming a mainstream topic in this era. However, when data is used to shape and dominate the power dynamics of wars and politics, becoming a breeding ground for misleading and violent information, the vulnerabilities in the advertising ecosystem often exacerbate conflicts.

The opacity and complexity of advertising technology mean it is one of the few gateways to enter a tightly controlled nation, making it more susceptible to opportunistic and malicious exploitation. Abusive behaviors, graphic images of physical trauma, violent language in videos, and more disturbing content are disseminated across various platforms, spreading like wildfire and linking crowds in front of screens to encrypted Telegram and WhatsApp channels for scams.

In this scenario, there is a pressing need for stricter content scrutiny and evaluation of the tone of advertisements. While programmatic advertising excels in shaping voter perceptions, its uncertainties in political and real-time events have become increasingly apparent. Audience reactions to political ads are unpredictable, and ad returns have become more unstable. To reduce controversy and maintain balance, there is a necessity to precisely adjust algorithms for more accurate filtering of political ads. This initiative aims to reduce misinformation and potential provocative actions, preserving the fairness of advertising platforms.

Faced with uncertainty, the advertising industry may evolve towards machine learning and predictive models to better understand audience reactions and adjust advertising strategies. Simultaneously, advertisers also need to adopt diversified advertising placement strategies to better manage potential political risks.

In times of political reform and upheaval, programmatic advertising has become a powerful tool for shaping voter awareness and conveying political information. However, its uncertainties in a political environment require the advertising industry to continuously adjust and innovate, adapting to the evolving advertising market.

Follow us on LinkedIn @Azure Tech for more insights about programmatic ads.

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