Presidential campaigns mine online data to target voters
Voters who click on President Obama’s campaign website are likely to start seeing display ads promoting his re-election bid on their Facebook pages and other sites they visit. Voters searching Google for information about Mitt Romney may notice a 15-second ad promoting the Republican presidential hopeful the next time they watch a video online.
The 2012 election could be decided by which campaign is best at exploiting voters’ Internet data.
The Romney and Obama campaigns are spending heavily on television ads and other traditional tools to convey their messages. But strategists say the most important breakthrough this year is the campaigns’ use of online data to raise money, share information and persuade supporters to vote. The practice, known as “microtargeting,” has been a staple of product marketing. Now it’s facing the greatest test of its political impact in the race for the White House.
“The story of this presidential campaign will be how both sides are using data and algorithms and personalization and math in their marketing,” said Adam Berke, president of the digital retargeting company AdRoll. “The promise and beauty of it is that it’s highly measurable — it’s easy to collect data and see what’s resonating and not resonating with voters.”
Campaigns have worked for years to target subsets of voters using commercially available demographic data, ZIP codes, shopping preferences and television viewing habits. But the growing sophistication of data-mining tools has allowed campaigns to dig deeply into voters’ online habits, giving politicians an unparalleled ability to personalize messages for individual voters.
Officials in both presidential campaigns declined to discuss their digital strategy, but a review of their most recent Federal Election Commission reports shows both campaigns spending heavily on it. The Romney team spent nearly $1 million on digital consulting in April and Obama at least $300,000.
Both campaigns have been building their digital operations, but the Obama team, famous for its use of the Internet to raise money and build its grassroots network in 2008, has a significant edge. Obama’s digital staff is far bigger than it was four years ago, bringing aboard engineers and others with backgrounds in statistics and quantitative
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