Top digital advertising concerns for election season

Addressing the top concerns for digital advertising for the presidential election

09/03 By IAS Team
digital advertising presidential election

Biden’s Big Bet

Earlier this month, Democratic nominee Joe Biden made headlines with his $280 million ad buy launching in September. It is the largest buy of any candidate in the 2020 race so far. While a greater part of his investment is targeting the linear TV battleground between Mr. Biden and President Donald Trump, it also includes $60 million in digital ads. Biden’s investment is right on the money: eMarketer predicted that digital channels would account for 19% of total political ad spending this year. This aligns with consumer behavior, too. IAS found that consumers prefer to get news from digital publishers (33%), followed by social media (23%), connected TV (16%), and digital video (12%).

Now, former Vice President Biden’s big bet on digital is further cementing the role of digital media in political campaigning. As the election approaches, political content and advertising alike are expected to take over the mainstream media. After the presence of misinformation and fake news in the 2016 election, there’s understandable concern about navigating the upcoming political landscape. Below are the top advertising concerns and how to approach them head-on.

The top 5 concerns for online advertisers in 2020

Fake and hyperpartisan news

The presence of fake news and misinformation in the 2016 election had lasting effects. When considering the 2020 presidential election, IAS found that nearly 80% of consumers were still concerned about these threats. While it remains important to take proactive, preventative measures to mediate these concerns, the approach can be tricky. Advertisers who over block can risk limiting scale and alienating premium inventory on accurate, renowned journalistic sites. So, how can advertisers navigate the political landscape while supporting reliable, effective journalism?

Good news: advertisers who work with a verification partner that leverages flexible content categories are already on the right path. Brand safety and suitability technology with content categories like hate speech, terrorism, and death will filter out topics and articles considered too risky for an advertiser. Additionally, technology leveraging machine learning and AI to detect fake news and hyperpartisan content ensures your strategy is always evolving and can be flexible to your unique needs.

Sensitive topics

At the start of the new year, the 2020 presidential election was at the forefront of news cycles. Then, news of the global coronavirus pandemic understandably shifted the narrative. As a result, brands were initially cautious about advertising adjacencies to pandemic-related content. Marketers have since made adjustments to ensure their messaging is appropriate and thoughtful for the contexts in which their ads appear. As the election approaches, the world is still adjusting and coping with a global pandemic.

For advertisers concerned about navigating a political landscape in the midst of coronavirus, brand suitability is key. At IAS, we know that over-blocking and reactionary tactics can limit scale and harm publishers. Consumers agree: 46% of consumers said they think it’s fine for brands to appear next to positive coronavirus content, like work from home tips and stories about frontline heroes.

Recently, IAS introduced Context Control, which encompasses our entire suite of Brand Safety and Suitability solutions. Today, brand safety and suitability have evolved beyond only protecting brands from universally inappropriate context. Now, advertisers need control over all potential contexts. To achieve this, the industry needs innovative solutions that read content the way humans do, understanding nuance, sentiment, and emotion. Context Control is powered by machine learning that maps words to all potential meanings and allows for greater accuracy in classifying content. Our technology is more advanced than ever and spanning a larger network than any of our competitors, delivering control through unmatched precision at unprecedented scale. Need more convincing? A recent study found that our contextual intelligence technology was 42% more accurate than the next best provider.


Fraud has challenged the digital advertising industry for years but is now another prevailing concern for election season. The utilization of bots—computers designed to act like humans— is a common practice that is used to fraudulently monetize ad impressions that are never even seen by humans. Theoretically, bots could fill out a voter form, click on an ad, or even steal valuable campaign dollars from an opposing Presidential candidate. In the 2016 election, for example, desktop ad fraud spiked +228%.

Bots are hard to catch because they are intentionally well disguised and continuously evolve to avoid detection. At IAS, our Threat Lab has identified multiple malicious fraud schemes, including the recent 404bot scheme. Additionally, we’ve created our own friendly bot, Wombles, designed to pressure-test the accuracy of both our fraud technology and that of our competitors. The finding? We tested Wombles across 5 industry verticals and found that IAS technology identified 90.8% more bot traffic than a leading competitor. We stop more bots, period.

Poorly targeted ads

The death of the cookie created serious concern about the ability to reach consumers. With limited audience targeting capabilities, advertisers must revisit how they reach their target market. In response to increasing legislation, IAS asked consumers how they feel about targeted ads. It turns out that consumers prefer contextual methods over all other types of targeting, including geo and social. Thankfully, contextual targeting doesn’t require cookies to help advertisers reach audiences more effectively. The solution instead relies on page-level semantic analysis that accounts for sentiment and context. Advertisers, see how it works for yourself.

Breaking through the noise

As of August 4th, election cycle ad spend has hit $2.19 billion. That’s already over twice what was spent by the same point in the 2016 or 2018 elections. Advertising Analytics projects that $6.7 billion will be spent before the election is over.

With a lot of money comes a lot of noise, and advertisers will want to be sure they are standing out from the crowd. Solutions like Qualified Ads can give advertisers a unified performance metric based on a campaign’s unique standards.

Delivering viewable, fraud-free, brand suitable, and in geo ads ensures that advertisers are not wasting the substantial capital invested in digital. The Qualified Ads metric provides solutions across CTV, programmatic, and social, making it the perfect fit for a digitally-focused political landscape.

Keeping up with the “kids”

Social media is a huge part of the political lives of voters spanning all age groups. However, only young adults (18-29 years) prefer social media as their political news source. In the upcoming election, advertising on social platforms will be the key to reaching a young voter base.

Successful partnerships with Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, and others ensure IAS is poised to be the centralized source of verification for advertisers. Instead of worrying about reaching consumers in suitable environments, advertisers using IAS are free to focus on strong messaging and the greater campaign. Skip ahead with the social cheat sheet.

How advertisers can navigate election season

Adaptive advertising solutions help you reach your consumers – in the right places and at the right times. From fake news to fraud, staying on your toes will be key to wading through the digital advertising landscape during the election season.

Download our one sheet to tackle the election season with confidence.

Download one sheet