Microtargeting has growing influence in political campaigns, says Internet Advertising Bureau

February 26, 2013

Data played a big role in last year’s presidential campaign, whether it was used to evaluate how likely a person was to vote for a particular candidate based on his or her Facebook profile, or to project which states would go for which candidate.

But there was almost no component of a campaign that was as affected by changing tech as political advertising. Microtargeting — or narrowly focused online advertising — is a growing component of political campaigns, according to a white paper published Tuesday from the Interactive Advertising Bureau. The IAB estimates that microtargeted ads accounted for between $130 million and $200 million in ad spending during the 2012 presidential election.

The findings also back up what’s become a familiar post-election narrative: that President Obama’s campaign was better at using and deploying high-tech tactics than the campaign of GOP challenger Mitt Romney.

For example, the paper notes, the Obama campaign had rubrics measuring both how likely someone was to vote for Obama, but also how likely they were to vote at all. Using algorithms like this, and consistently updating them, made it possible for the campaign to efficiently leverage their data to motivate people to vote, donate to the campaign or even volunteer.

Web video also was a valuable tool for campaigns to get their messages out to people who don’t watch television, the IAB said. One advertiser, Michael Beach of Targeted Victory, told the IAB that increasing the number of ads you show on TV simply means you show the same people more of the same ads. On the Web, you reach people who rarely or never watch traditional television.

Both parties, the paper said, used microtargeting more than ever during the 2012 campaign, and that it helped the campaigns find and excite voters who would have been ignored or inefficiently targeted using older methods. That data and the ability to analyze it, the paper said, sometimes gave the campaigns a crucial edge in a particularly district or on a particular issue.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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