RNC Reserves an Unprecedented $150 Million in Digital Video Ads

Party Claims Inventory From Google and Others to Reach Hispanics and Women

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Credit: RNC

The Republican National Committee is finalizing its largest digital ad deal ever, to reserve $150 million worth of video ad inventory for the general election, according to the RNC. The amount is unprecedented for the committee, but it also represents an acknowledgement on the part of the RNC that the party's likely nominee will need more help than usual on the digital front.

The party has been arranging the massive buy with dozens of partners, the largest of which is Google, since February. The plan focuses on premium digital video, mobile video and high-impact placements that show up in prominent spots on web pages, some of which is in Spanish language media. It will be used to target Hispanics, women, millennials and independent voters in swing states throughout the general election season including during important periods such as around debates or when some states begin early voting.

The digital effort comes to light a month after pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC Priorities USA said it had reserved $35 million in digital video ad inventory to reach many of the same groups of voters in swing states.

The party's total ad budget for the 2016 general election is unknown, but the digital reservation could represent a significant chunk of the party's overall spending this election. According to the Federal Election Commission, the RNC spent around $386 million in total during the 2011-12 cycle.

The $150 million commitment "would be absurd five years ago," said Gerrit Lansing, chief digital officer of the RNC.

The plan not only represents a major commitment to digital by the party, but indicates the RNC's recognition that unlike Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign -- the most digitally sophisticated Republican presidential campaign thus far -- this year's presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, has indicated little interest in managing a smart digital campaign. By stepping in now, the party is trying to ensure it can compete with the Democrats especially in reaching key voter groups, many of whom are easier to find online.

The RNC's in-house digital team is finalizing a large portion of the buy that's being made directly through Google, the RNC said. Some of the inventory is guaranteed reserved ad space, of which there is a finite amount available.

As with many political ad buys, the RNC has committed to purchasing $150 million in ads with its media partners rather than paying that full amount upfront.

"We've got our agreements set up where we can be nimble where we use our inventory," said Gary Coby, senior director of digital advertising at the RNC. "We'd rather it be parked with us then sitting in the marketplace or parked with Hillary."

The RNC expects to use the ad space for the party's own messaging in the White House race rather than re-selling it to down-ballot campaigns.

But some are concerned that the party could be reserving too much inventory, potentially annoying publishers if some inventory reserved by the RNC now is released back into ad exchanges before the election and drives down ad prices.

"My fear with an approach like this is if the audience is too broad, unless there's the ability to segment and parse those segments out to different groups you'll actually have more inventory than you need," said Zac Moffatt, co-founder of Republican digital ad firm Targeted Victory and former digital director for Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign.

Some of the inventory that the party is snapping up is programmatic guaranteed reserve inventory, which will allow it to target ads to specific voters based on voter file data matching.

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