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Microtargeting: The Key to Unlocking the Doors to the White House

Written on
Oct 26, 2012 
Author
Whitney Sommers  |

With less than a month left to Election Day, both presidential candidates are heavily investing in ad dollars across every medium in order to win over final voters. In fact, during the second week of October, Mitt Romney spent about $16.8 million on television ads, according to ad-tracking data provided by media buyers, while President Obama spent $15.5 million.

When spending by independent super PACs is included, Mr. Romney and his allies combined for $31.4 million during this week, compared with $19.7 million for President Obama and his supporters, according to data from one media tracker.  There has been a significant increase in the past week because candidates know that many voters make their final decisions during the final home stretch.

Microtargeting is one marketing/advertising methodology that has been proven over the past decade to capture and win voters, especially during the final stages of a race.  Microtargeting is a direct marketing data mining technique used by Republican and Democratic political parties and candidates to track individual voters and identify potential supporters.

They then use various means of communication–direct mail, phone calls, home visits, television, radio, web advertising, email, text messaging, etc.–to communicate with voters, crafting messages to build support for fundraising, campaign events, volunteering, and eventually to turn them out to the polls on Election Day.  Microtargeting’s tactics rely on transmitting a tailored message to a subgroup of the electorate on the basis of unique information about that subgroup.

Unlike television ads, microtargeting allows campaigns to direct specific messages to individual voters based on their political leanings and interests, and in the process, gain an understanding of who they have the best chances of connecting with. The data can be so accurate that digital campaign strategists say whoever can do it better in 2012 secures a major advantage in winning the White House.

“If you are not using these techniques you are at a major disadvantage,” says Joel Rivlin, the Senior Vice President of the Pivot Group, an agency that specializes in microtargeting. “At the end of the day, it’s the communication with voters that has the ability to change minds and behavior, and this is the best tool to find the right people to have that communication with. It would be wasting resources without it.”

Although some of the tactics of microtargeting had been used in California since 1992, it really started to be used nationally only in 2004. In that year, Karl Rove, along with Blaise Hazelwood at the Republican National Committee, used it to reach voters in 18 states that George W. Bush’s reelection campaign was not able to reach by other means. The results were greater contacts with likely Bush voters.

For example, in Iowa the campaign was able to reach 92 percent of eventual Bush voters (compared to 50 percent in 2000) and in Florida it was able to reach 84 percent (compared to 50 percent in 2000).  Much of this pioneering work was done by Alex Gage and his firm, TargetPoint Consulting.

Democrats did only limited microtargeting in 2004, with some crediting microtargeting for Kerry’s win in Iowa that year.  However in 2006, former Clinton staffers Harold Ickes and Laura Quinn developed Catalist, a data company created to benefit progressive causes. Catalist was able to build an extensive voter file, which now houses information on 180 million registered voters.

Catalist helped Democratic groups including the Obama campaign surge ahead in microtargeting. An after-action report acquired by the Atlantic in 2009 revealed the group’s efforts may have helped catapult the president to victory. The report showed of the 49 million adults who were contacted by Catalist, roughly 50 percent of them showed up to the polls, a number that accounts for 1-in-5 ballots cast in 2008.

Demonstrating its new commitment to microtargeting, the RNC during this race signed an agreement with Data Trust, a firm that maintains voter files and matches them with relevant commercial data. The RNC then leveraged the information to target and communicate one-to-one with potential voters.  Maintaining these data files and developing strategies for using the information in the best way possible is expensive, but experts say the return on investment is greater than the television ads that have dominated American campaigns for nearly sixty years.

Due to the nature of the medium, microtargeting works extremely well on the Internet. Microtargeting Advertising Campaigns have particularly gained tremendous momentum in the past two years for not only political campaigns, but businesses who want to target very specific consumers. The folks at AdsWizz believe that the only way broadcasters and advertisers will truly monetize their streams is if they learn the exact demographic profile of their listeners and then leverage that information to make sure each end-user only receives the ads that truly appeal to their likes and needs.

As a result of this thinking, AdsWizz has created a clever, revenue-generating technology tool, Targeted Ad Insertion,” a solution that enables CDNs, Ad Networks and Online Audio Publishers to unleash the power of one-to-one marketing by allowing them to insert ads directly into each individual end-user stream and ensure the ad specifically speaks to the individual end-user interests. AdsWizz is able to target consumers by their gender, demographics and active location based data. Well-known customers include Virgin Radio Online, Leighton Broadcasting and Absolute Radio.

Absolute Radio’s InStream Ads Service offers improved ad targeting to a logged-in listenership through ‘full view’ gender, demographic and active location based data. This groundbreaking service enhances the radio experience by merging opt-in privacy data with live online streaming and puts Absolute Radio at the forefront of digital innovation in the sector with the station setting out to ‘redefine radio’.

Absolute Radio had revealed at the start of the program that 80 percent of their InStream ‘logged-in’ audiences at the time were within the station’s core demographic of 25-54, with 65 percent of users being male. Users are being incentivized to share data by being offered a series of benefits including HQ audio streams, more music and more relevant commercial messages. Heavy-hitters have signed on to advertise with these guys including Volkswagen and Microsoft 365.

Radio streaming broadcasters have witnessed an increase in advertising campaigns for this presidential race.  Approximately 85 percent of political advertisers anticipate increased or steady ad spending this year compared to 2010.  For instance, Leighton Broadcasting, who has been monetizing its streams using AdsWizz technology agrees.  “I have seen an influx of advertising campaigns. Political advertising is creating more demand and pushing up ad costs,” said Stephanie Theisen, Senior Ad Sales Executive at Leighton Broadcasting. “The various political groups realize the advantages that radio offers in reaching people in primary listening locations such as the automobile and the office. It offers candidates a persuasive and powerful source of communication,” continued Theisen.

CampaignGrid, is another online microtargeting leader and specifically in the political arena.  The CampaignGrid network includes ten ad exchanges reaching 90 percent of the U.S., with 1 billion impressions per month, 185 million voter records with reach demographic data, and serves ads in 34,000 voter zones within 435 voting districts (2.5X more granular than zip code targeting).

Their unique capabilities allow them to specifically target a desired online audience using strategically placed ads on over 25,000 Web sites along with paid search results, rich media, pre-roll video ads, social media pages, and issue-based landing pages including email capture, volunteer sign-up and donor solicitation. According to the company, statistics do not lie. So far 87 percent of their candidates have won using CampaignGrid.

The verdict is still out on whether microtargeting is the key to winning this election and hopefully on November 6 the answer will be revealed in addition to the country’s future!





Whitney is a digital media research associate with Progressive Digital Media Group (PDM Group) and also serves as a freelance technology writer covering the latest in technology innovations. As PDM Group’s in-house marketing strategists, Whitney helps digital marketers develop and implement strategic lifecycle marketing campaigns that are continually optimized to increase engagement and revenue. Whitney has built go-to-market strategies for early-stage high tech startups. She holds a BA in cognitive science from the University of California at San Diego.

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