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The Power of Ad Targeting for Politicians

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While the lion’s share of political advertising dollars are spent on TV commercials, with each election cycle a larger and larger portion is spent online.  Online advertising is a powerful complement to TV for many reasons.  You can reach users who don’t watch live TV (one recent survey found that 30% of respondents did not watch live TV).  You can serve direct response ads that are immediately actionable within the platform—for example, asking a user to sign up for an email list or to learn more about the candidate on his website.  You can track their performance much more rigorously than any TV ads, and measurable viewer engagement allows you to optimize based on past performance.

But one of the most powerful advantages of online advertising is the ability to target with incredible precision.

“Online advertising cuts through because of its ability to target. It’s unparalleled in any other medium.  TV may be more effective for driving a big message, but per usage, the Internet is more powerful.  We are probably one presidential cycle from everyone believing that.”
- Zac Moffatt, Director of Digital for the Mitt Romney campaign

There are four primary methods for audience targeting online: geographic targeting, demographic targeting, interest-based targeting and behavioral targeting.  Geographic targeting is fairly self-explanatory.  You can target display ads to people in particular states, metropolitan areas or in a range of zip codes.  Websites like Pandora, Hulu, Facebook and Twitter also allow geographic targeting within their ad platforms.  Demographic targeting allows you to serve ads to very specific groups, for example, college educated women aged 25-34.  Targeting based on interest refers, simply, to showing ads on pages with relevant content that your desired audience is likely to be interested in.

Depending on the goals of your ad campaign, you could combine any of those three for increased specificity.  An example of that might be targeting fathers aged 35-44 in Texas who frequent gun enthusiast websites.  While this kind of precision may be a great hone to hone your messaging to a very specific group, you want to be careful not to limit your reach too much.

Behavioral targeting refers to the practice of targeting users based on past actions.  One particularly effective form of behavioral targeting is retargeting.  Retargeting is the practice of showing ads to users who have previously visited your website.  Email retargeting, which utilizes the same core technology as site retargeting, allows you to retarget users who open your emails and is a highly effective way to expand your email campaign.  CRM retargeting, a relatively new tool, allows you to show ads to users with nothing but an email or a mailing address and is the only way to bring a direct mail campaign online.

The major national players are already taking advantage of online ads’ targeting power.  Obama for America has been using retargeting as part of its 2012 election strategy since at least April.  OFA has also used powerfully timed geographic targeting, for example making a huge ad buy on New Hampshire’s largest newspaper the day of the primary.  Romney’s campaign has also employed retargeting as a part of its overall digital strategy.

Targeted and retargeted ads allow you to keep your candidate top of mind among his base, spurring further engagement like evangelizing, volunteering or even donating.  Even among relatively engaged political followers, following the campaign is probably not their first priority.  Retargeting is a great way to keep engagement levels high by keeping your candidate top of mind.

Online advertising’s ability to target is one of its key strengths.  If you aren’t taking advantage of the power to target, your online campaign is not reaching its potential.

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