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Online Political Advertising Gets Personal

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
Juggernauts AOL, Google, Facebook and Twitter have hired partisan political operatives to assist campaigns and boost sales of online political advertising.

"There's two sides to the story," said Peter Pasi, a Republican digital strategist and executive vice president at Emotive. "Are campaigns reaching out more, are they really recognizing the value of online advertising? Or are the companies that sell advertising reaching out more? I think it's both."

According to Saliterman, campaigns can now specify when advertising with Google that their pre-roll ads only be shown to viewers in a particular Congressional district. And the targeting possibilities dive deeper than that, especially with the advent of voter-file online ad targeting.

Campaign Grid, a Republican advertising platform, was the first to use the technology in the political sphere late last cycle. Essentially, the technique matches voter file data with Internet records. Registered voter data can be matched with web users if they, say, offer their name and address when making a purchase.

After the data is matched, it's anonymized by a third party to avoid any breach of privacy, and the user is simply non-personal identifiable data points. Those data points - such as whether they're a likely voter, their party affiliation and age range - allows the voters to be added to "buckets." Campaigns wanting to reach particular types of voter can then choose to display their ad only to the selected buckets of voters.

"We're targeting the same way consultants have been targeting people with phones and mail for decades," said Jordan Lieberman, president of Campaign Grid.

Jim Walsh, CEO of DSPolitical, an advertising firm on the Democratic side, said major private-sector advertisers have been using this technology for years to reach specific audience segments they deem likely customers.

"They just call it 'audience targeting,'" he said. "Almost immediately, we realized the electoral applications if political data could be matched to these online audiences. So we adopted this same technology and tailored it specifically for the political space."

With an increased ability to target, campaigns are seeing new avenues of persuasion online, not simply a mechanism for raising money like Obama's campaign did so successfully in 2008. Digital strategists would argue that, with DVR, smartphones and tablet use on the rise, a significant portion of the electorate is completely missing candidates' messages on TV.

A study released by SAY Media last month, "Voters Going off the Grid: 2012," found that voters are increasingly watching less live TV. The bipartisan study, conducted in partnership with the firms Targeted Victory, Public Opinion Strategies, Chong & Koster and SEA Polling, found that 29 percent of likely voters had not watched live TV in the past week.

"The game-changer this cycle is that online is a persuasion vehicle," said Michael Beach, co-founder of Republican digital strategy firm Targeted Victory. "I think that will be second nature to people next cycle."

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