Trump's TV Turning Point: Data-Driven Ad Buys Are Happening

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A scene from the Trump campaign's 'Two Americas' ad.
A scene from the Trump campaign's 'Two Americas' ad. Credit: Donald J. Trump for President

Following months of no TV advertising, the Trump campaign has not only begun paying for TV exposure, it appears to be using data and analytics while doing it. Information obtained by Ad Age from National Cable Communications indicates a turning point in Donald Trump's TV buying strategy.

The initial signals point to a data-driven approach that on the surface mimics the data-informed TV strategy employed by President Obama's 2012 campaign and Hillary Clinton's current campaign for the White House.

The Trump campaign recently placed TV buys on around 40 cable networks in Virginia, many of them on non-traditional channels such as Animal Planet, Food TV, Oxygen, Syfy and Travel Channel.

"This indicates that they're looking at some sort of set-top box data," suggested Tim Kay, director of political strategy at National Cable Communications. While the ads may not be aimed directly to specific voter households, the expansive buys on less-expensive niche networks could be the result of analyzing data to determine which shows Trump supporters or other persuadable voters watch.

According to Mr. Kay, the campaign has begun working with two new TV ad buying firms offering targeted TV services, Jamestown Associates and Cable Scope -- which is buying cable TV in conjunction with the Trump campaign's analytics and media firm Cambridge Analytica. Previously, the campaign was working with a different media buying agency that purchased ads on around seven or eight different networks, he said.

The Trump campaign and Cambridge Analytica declined to comment for this story.

Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based firm which made a name for itself through its work with Ted Cruz's primary campaign, recently inked a deal with Comscore-owned TV data firm Rentrak, enhancing its ability to help clients make more efficient TV buys.

The Trump camp's Virginia cable ad buys target Comcast viewers in Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Richmond and Roanoke-Lynchburg, and are for flights starting Sept. 3 and ending either Sept. 8 or 11. The campaign has made similarly widespread cable buys in Colorado, New Hampshire, Nevada and Washington, D.C., which is considered part of Virginia's media market.

"It does look like a pretty deep buy," added Mr. Kay.

Despite the Trump camp's apparent wade into data-informed TV advertising, the Clinton camp has done targeted TV buys throughout the election cycle, giving it months to test messaging, and optimize voter segments and response models, likely putting Mr. Trump's Democratic opponent in an advanced position in terms of sharpening data models for targeting TV and other messaging.

Another distinction: the Trump campaign has been reserving cable television spots on a week-by-week basis while the Clinton camp has booked them through the day of the election, Nov. 8, according to Mr. Kay.

In addition to purchasing far more cable networks than ever, the Trump camp has inquired with NCC salespeople about using a Comcast service for addressable TV ads. The dynamic ad insertion service aims ads at specific households while people watch video-on-demand. For example, a voter in Philadelphia who is included in a targeted voter segment matched to Comcast subscriber data could see such an ad while watching "NCIS" on demand, said Mr. Kay.

"They have inquired about it," he said of the Trump campaign. "I don't have confirmation that they've bought it."

NCC is owned by Comcast, Cox and Time Warner, and has partnerships with several political data and analytics firms that help clients reach voter segments based on the shows they tend to view.

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