Big Data Plus Detailed TV-Viewership Information Helps Reach Desired Voters for Lower Cost
Politicians are moving away from blanket TV advertising, now that they know you better and where to find you.
When New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie wanted to reach Hispanic voters during his re-election campaign last year, a team of outside data crunchers discovered that viewers of "Dama y Obrero," a Spanish-language telenovella about a woman torn between two men, would likely be more receptive to his message than people who watch "Porque el Amor Manda," a romantic comedy.
That discovery came from marrying private consumer research with detailed voter information and big batches of ratings data, all compiled by the political consulting firm Deep Root Analytics.
The new technology borrows heavily from traditional targeting methods that use information about where a person lives, how they have voted and what products they buy to predict future political behavior, and combines that research with richer-than-ever data about what shows people watch and when they watch them.
The result, writ large, is revolutionizing the billion-dollar business of political advertising, with implications for those who buy and sell it.
Such specifics about people and how to reach them can help campaigns determine where to find groups of pivotal voters, both large and small, and target them at the lowest possible price.
Targeted ads also can be considerably more specific than going after fans of a certain show. DirecTV Group Inc. and Dish Network Corp., the country's two biggest satellite-TV providers, offer direct access to chosen households. That means one person might see a campaign ad during a certain show but his next-door neighbor won't, even if he is watching the same show.
"Instead of sending a letter to a post box, we're sending a 30-second spot to a TV set," said Warren Schlichting, senior vice president of Dish media sales.
To preempt privacy concerns, political operatives and industry executives are quick to say the identity of individual television viewers is protected through encryption and a process to remove names and other identifying information. A third party uses that anonymous data to match targeted voters with actual television viewers, but not by name.
Media outlets and political campaigns won't provide specifics about the various costs of TV advertising, but it is undisputed that some shows and networks cost considerably more than others.
Fox News, a unit of 21st Century Fox, draws a huge share of GOP primary voters, but it is expensive given its audience size and it is saturated with ads for Republican candidates. In the run-up to the Texas Republican primary in March, 64% of all the spots aired by Republican candidates ran on Fox News, according to research done by Tim Kay at NCC Media, a cable industry market-research firm.
In the Kentucky Senate race, Deep Root discovered it could reach a similar share of the voters it sought by advertising on HGTV—a house and garden channel—for a fraction of the cost of Fox. Likewise, during last year's Virginia governor's race, both sides found the NFL Network a less expensive option to reach swing voters than other cable networks with a larger audience.
This same kind of analysis led the Christie campaign to run ads during " Friday Night Wrestling" on the SyFy channel, in an effort to reach people who had a low propensity to vote but would likely cast ballots for Gov. Christie if they did.
Similarly, a super-PAC helping Senator Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) picked "Bones," a Fox show about a forensic anthropologist, in the Evansville, Ind., media market, right across the Ohio River from Kentucky, having determined that the show's viewers were highly likely to vote in the Kentucky race and could still be swayed to support a Republican candidate.
(Until the middle of 2013, 21st Century Fox and Wall Street Journal parent News Corp were part of the same company.)
Republicans and Democrats who do this work say they can help a campaign stretch its ad budget by as much as 30%.
"These are calculations we just couldn't do before," said Alex Lundry, a Deep Root co-founder who led the data team for Republican Mitt Romney's presidential bid in 2012.
Deep Root and other data analysts buy consumer information from data-mining firms, including movie and TV-measurement firms Rentrak and Nielsen, as well as credit-score firm Experian.
And unlike traditional TV ratings, which generally focus on age brackets, these new targeting tools monitor the viewing habits of individuals. Cablevision Systems Corp. and Comcast Spotlight, a division of Comcast Corp., have started providing campaigns with more specific audience information to give them detailed, real-time information about what people are watching.
The analytics firms then use computers to sort through the information and steer campaign efforts, as they do for businesses' marketing campaigns.
President Barack Obama's re-election team in 2012 pioneered these media cost-benefit analytics during his White House race.
His advisers expected Republicans to have more to spend on television, thanks to a collection of well-funded outside groups, and they wanted to maximize their media budget by focusing solely on the 15% of the electorate they believed would decide the election.
"One of the ways we approached the spending disadvantage is that we decided to buy [media] differently," said Larry Grisolano, the campaign's top media adviser and an architect of these new targeting techniques, which are now used at the company he founded, Analytics Media Group. "The data gave us the confidence to try something different."
Since the 2012 election, a number of firms have emerged to offer candidates this service. GMMB, another leading Democratic ad firm, joined forces with other Obama alums at Civis Analytics last year.
A group of tech-savvy GOP operatives launched Optimus from a cramped Capitol Hill townhouse to offer similar tools to Republicans, including a political action committee tied to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
In the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, Deep Root built a tool similar to one used by the Obama campaign for Mr. Romney. His media buyer never used it, the Deep Root founders said. ( Stuart Stevens, a top Romney adviser, said the campaign used the products "that were helpful.")
"Contrary to a lot of public perceptions, Republicans weren't asleep at the switch," said Sara Taylor Fagen, another Deep Root co-founder who served as political director under former President George W. Bush.
Politicians need to get with the digital age, experts say. Campaigns will devote about 57% of their overall advertising budget to broadcast TV, according to projections by Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, and another 15% on cable. Digital advertising, meanwhile, will account for just 7% of the average campaign budget, less than half of the amount most candidates will spend on direct mail.
"In politics, as in advertising," Mr. Grisolano said, "you have to follow people by the choices they make."
Write to Patrick OConnor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal