Campaigns can no longer live or die by running broad-reaching, general advertising—especially online. Sophisticated online targeting, which reaches the right audience with the right message and mobilizes voters to go to the polls, is what wins elections. This type of microtargeted online advertising is partly why Republican Scott Brown now has an office in the Russell Senate Building.
Scott Brown’s victory generated a host of “lessons learned” articles in the media, particularly for Brown’s astute use of online technologies to connect with supporters and hard-to-reach audiences, such as persuadable voters and Independents. One of the tools Brown made good use of is Attitudinal Targeting™, a new way to effectively reach and engage with the right audiences needed to win a campaign.
Early in the campaign, Brown’s team embraced new, cutting edge online technologies to reach out to voters who are traditionally tough to effectively—and efficiently—locate and communicate with online, particularly with limited budgets. Brown was considered the underdog, and he didn’t have the campaign coffers that Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley had amassed.
In the weeks just prior to the election, the landscape began to change. The challenge for Brown was to engage very specific audiences who would make or break the race between Brown and the favored Democratic candidate. With the candidates in what became a close race, and given the short timeframe for campaigning prior to Election Day, Brown’s campaign needed to reach several critical audiences with highly targeted messaging. The traditional online advertising approach—blanketing ads on the highest-trafficked websites in hopes that a few of them hit the right voters—would not be enough to put Brown over the top.
While leveraging online advertising for saturating a message can increase general awareness, the campaign needed to strategically use the Internet to reach voters based on the issues, values, beliefs and attitudes that drive their actions. This is what we call Attitudinal Targeting™.
Resonate Networks was brought on by the NRSC and the Brown campaign because we had the unique ability to effectively reach and engage highly targeted audiences with Brown’s key campaign messages. With Resonate’s research-based ad targeting technology, the campaign was able to identify voters not just by the most obvious data points (Republican vs. Democrat vs. Independent, demographics and geographics), but by the subtle shadings and variations on voting behavior, degree of engagement in campaign politics, ideology, and an array of issue positions.
The decision the campaign had to make was which characteristics it wished to target among the following:
- Registered Republicans, Democrats, and Independents
- Ideology from very conservative to very liberal (and several points in between)
- Issue priority when considering which candidate to support (such as Immigration, Education, Debt/Deficit Reduction, Job Creation, etc.) across 13 categories
- Voting behavior from All Democrat to All Republican, including five points in between
- Participation/number of elections voted in and whether presidential year elections, non-presidential year elections, or both
- Primary voters
- McCain, Obama, or “other” voters
- Degree of “political engagement”
They ultimately elected to target three distinct groups: 1) Highly engaged registered Republicans who voted straight Republican, 2) Highly engaged moderate-to-conservative Independents who’d demonstrated a capacity to vote Republican in previous elections, and 3) Highly politically engaged moderate-to-conservative Democrats who’d also demonstrated a capacity to vote Republican in previous elections. Resonate’s research-based methodology and proprietary technology enabled the campaign to effectively and efficiently reach and engage these highly targeted audiences quickly.
The results were exceptional. We placed nearly five million precisely targeted premium ads across 24 sites during the seven-day period leading up to the election. Click through rates were as aggressive as .525%. Highly correlating sites included but were not limited to Fandango, TechCrunch, ScientificAmerican. com, Lifescript.com, Time.com, Parade.com, and Beliefnet.
“Reaching voters on the Internet has become twice as important as radio listeners for GOTV efforts,” says Rob Willington, who managed new media and online strategy for the Brown campaign. “Online, you can reach exactly who matters to your campaign with the best message to connect with them, especially if they are an audience that is traditionally under the radar. This unique and critical ability is why Resonate was an integral part of our online advertising spend.”
Attitudinal Targeting™ came about when George W. Bush’s political director, Sara Taylor Fagen, and issue advocacy pioneer John Brady set out to apply microtargeting online with a similar level of precision that they were able to achieve within their respective markets offline. Resonate serves ads to voters where they spend their time online based on very specific criteria that go far beyond basic demographics and party affiliation.
Using its political targeting attributes—and defining the audience profiles of voters the candidate needs to reach—we effectively deliver ad campaigns that reach specific voters with targeted messages on the websites with the highest concentration of the desired audience for a more efficient ad buy and budget spend. As described above, for the Scott Brown campaign, we were able to deliver ads through a unique mix of web sites chosen for their high concentrations of these target audiences, fulfilling the Brown campaign’s audience objectives. Finding people of various political persuasions online may seem like an easy task—don’t all the conservatives hang out at FoxNews.com, and don’t all liberals frequent DailyKos.com? Not so. We have found that these supposedly obvious assumptions don’t hold true. Resonate knows that if a campaign is trying to reach independent males, it can reach a higher concentration on Economist.com than on CNBC.com. If a campaign is trying to reach independent women, more of them will be found at CutOut-Hunger.com than on MarthaStewart.com. And if a campaign is looking to brew up Tea Party activists, it needs to advertise on Hollywoodlife.com rather than GlennBeck.com (yes, really). Finally, there is a higher concentration of Obama voters to rally on MenuPages.com than the more obvious pick, TheNation.com.
Most political advertisers buy ads on expensive niche political sites with small audiences—the places here diehards go each month to wave the flag and read the news. Unfortunately, those sites only reach a small fraction of supporters at high cost with low impact. Attitudinal Targeting™ lets advertisers reach supporters across tens of thousands of other sites that their target audiences are most likely to visit online. Naturally, many factors came into play in Brown’s win—such as voter distrust of incumbents—but the argument can be made that his team’s online sophistication sealed the deal.
Bryan Gernert is CEO of Resonate, a research-based online advertising targeting company that enables political advertisers to reach and engage with voters based on values, beliefs & attitudes.