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Thursday, March 12, 2015

How Online Video Ads Became a Necessity in the 2015 Israeli Elections

Every Israeli with an internet connection could not have passed over the hottest trend of 2015 Israeli elections – the growing spread of online video advertising and how it became a necessary tool for political parties to reach voters and influence them.

This phenomenon, which was already evident at the 2013 elections in Israel is now stronger due to the understanding of politicians and their campaigners that the communication center-stage moves away from the TV screen and into the second screen, be it the PC, tablet or mobile screen.

Israeli Political Parties - Online Video Ad Spending
Data from Ifat Advertising Monitoring for the period of December 1, 2014 to March 9, 2015 shows that all prominent political parties running for elections use online video media as part of their advertising budget, though there is one very clear leader as far as budgets are concerned.  Yesh Atid is the leading political party in video advertising spending with 78%(!) of total video advertising budget towards the elections.  Distant second and third are "Hamahane Hazioni" and "Likud" parties with 7% and 4% of the total online video advertising budget, respectively.

The growing use of online video as a marketing tool by politicians and political parties is related to several factors:

1.     Constant, immediate communication: in what seems today like a whole different era, political parties were previously limited in their propaganda, and specifically under the Israeli law, TV video propaganda had strict limitations of broadcasting for a couple of weeks prior to election day, for a limited amount of time per day and in defined TV channels.  Online video essentially makes all these limitations irrelevant.  From the moment the 2015 elections were announced, internet users were instantly and constantly exposed to each party's messages, where much like in every other area, the visualization and videoization of the web dominate as a quick and effective communication channel.  Video allows the parties to convey messages of varying length and depth, in a serious or humorous tone, as well as quickly respond to competing parties' video content and actions. Internet users are also empowered by the immediacy factor, as they review and analyze the videos, comment on messages, share and influence through distribution of the videos.

2.     Targeting, costs, measurement and learning: online video advertising allows for audience targeting that is far wider than basic demographics, spreading into online viewing habits, content consumption, internet usage properties and context. The growing effectiveness of media buying, and the shift towards programmatic advertising and Real Time Bidding allow the advertising parties to buy media at considerably lower cost than cost of traditional offline media and to target audiences down to the single impression level. Lower cost and targeting capabilities also contribute to more exact measurement of audience response to the messages delivered in each video, such as measuring completion rates of video ads, comments and shares for each video, etc.  A big advantage online video gives parties' campaign marketers is the ability to learn the viewing and engagement data of the ads and use it as ad hoc, real time focus groups to choose the kind of messages that create interest with potential voters. It's a great opportunity for politicians to actively test Groucho Marx' saying "Those are my principles.  And if you don't like them, well… I have others".

3.     Unmediated connection (or the illusion of one): political parties video ads seek to communicate directly with the voters and create an unmediated connection.  For many internet users this creates a sense, some would argue it's a false one, that they can talk directly with leading political candidates and have a real effect on parties' agenda through their commenting and sharing.

4.     It worked in the U.S.:  it sometimes seems Israel is a likely candidate for being the 51st state, as it tends to be influenced by American social, political and economic trends.  The 2012 Presidential campaign was a stellar example of using online video and social networks for communicating with voters and affecting both public opinion and traditional media coverage.  During the 2012 campaign, Barack Obama uploaded 3 videos per day on average, made it easy for people to donate online and targeted unique segments through video advertising.  The hope of Israeli parties is that what worked for Obama in 2012 would work well for them in 2015.

The growing usage of video advertising is one of many technological and cultural changes which affect politicians and voters' behavior in a way that is not as controllable as it used to be. As this trend strengthens it will be interesting to see if and how the engagement with video ads, that is the completion rates (viewers who choose to watch the ad in its entirety), comments and shares of each video, succeeds on its own in changing voters' opinions, similarly to the way voting polls may shift voters' decisions.

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