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How Do PACs and Super PACs Use Programmatic Ad Tech? [w/Ad Spend Data]

How Do PACs and Super PACs Use Programmatic Ad Tech? [w/Ad Spend Data]

Much of programmatic ad tech may be dispassionate automation, but that doesn’t mean programmatic ads don’t get political.

Programmatic advertising is nothing new, but the demand for new ways to reach consumers means that it is almost constantly evolving. As a result, industries across the board are spending more on programmatic advertising. Included in this dive into the promise of programmatic is the political machine behind both conservative and liberal Political Action Committees (PACs) and super PACs. 

PACs make political donations to individual candidates and parties, while super PACs make their own, independent advertising campaigns. The inclusion of both is important since super PACs are not limited in their expenditures. 

To get a picture of how PACs spend using programmatic ad tech, we can take a look at both the 2016 election and the upcoming 2020 election. 

In the 2016 election cycle, forty-five different PACs and Super PACs used programmatic advertising. This is a relatively small number, given that there are over 2,000 super PACs registered with the Federal Election Commission (including PACs would yield an even higher number). Altogether, these 45 PACs and Super PACs spent $5 million programmatically in 2016. As you can see in the graph above, overall ad spend rose sharply in Q4 2016 — with the election right in the middle of that quarter. However, programmatic spend peaked in Q2, months before the election. 

The top PAC and Super PAC programmatic spenders during the 2016 election period ran the ideological gamut. The top spenders included: 

  • End Citizens United
  • Planned Parenthood Action Fund
  • Women Vote Project
  • National Association for Gun Rights

As seen in the chart above, 2016 programmatic ad spend was just a part of the PAC advertising strategy. The groups spent more through other channels in Q4 alone. 

We will see if this shifts at all during 2020. But PACs and Super PACs are already getting a jump on the upcoming election, with 23 different action committees spending almost $2 million in programmatic ads in 2019. 

The top spenders this cycle include:

  • Planned Parenthood Action Fund
  • Progressive Turnout Project
  • End Citizens United
  • House Majority PAC

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