Campaigns are appropriating the advertising strategies that technology companies use to target consumers to woo undecided voters.
Peter Greenberg, head of Twitter's political ad sales, attributes the effectiveness of those ads to the method of pinpointing exactly whom to send a particular message.
“Geo-targeting can target by interest, location, mobile device access,” he said. “It’s pretty remarkable how minutely we can target.”
Several advertisers echo the geo-targeting sentiment: They’re buying people, not channels.
For example, rather than using ESPN to target males from 18-45, companies use a person’s online activity in calculating where to place ads and what is in the content of those ads, said Michael Beach the co-founder of the Targeted Victory, the Romney campaign’s digital advertising firm.
It’s not zeroing in on the broad groups, either. Google, for example, is able to target ads down to the gender, age and zip code.
Plus, the technology is so precise a campaign can identify how many clicks an ad gets and how long a viewer watches one of their videos.
And that kind of information can help campaigns target specific voting blocs in the areas needed to win come Election Day.
Political web ads not only include fundraising efforts or “get out the vote” campaigns, but many advertisers say the key word this cycle is “persuasion,” a marketing term for convincing the key undecided voters with specific ads.
“The main driver of official dollars is coming from that,” Beach said. “Persuasion has moved online because eyeballs have moved online.”
Scott Goodstein, the founder and CEO of the Democratic digital advertising firm Revolution Messaging, which handled President Obama’s 2008 social media and mobile strategies, notes that politicians hate to hear that they need to be “branded,” but that is what persuasion marketing is all about — building a brand based on a candidate’s message.
He compares a vote for his client as “closing a sale” on Election Day.
Digital advertising has been around for a few election cycles but its methods have changed drastically — even since the last election. In the 2008 cycle, Twitter had not yet emerged as an advertising platform, Facebook advertising was limited and campaigns were still reaching out to voters on MySpace. Geo-targeting, Goodstein said, was not even available at the time.
Now that has exploded. More than $100 million is likely to be spent on digital advertising alone in the 2012 cycle, the Washington Post recently reported.
Although television still remains the major player for political ads, advertisers are wary of those who utilize commercial-skipping devises, such as DVR cable boxes and TiVo.
Beach of Targeted Victory argues that one-third of potential voters will not see a political advertisement run on TV.
But even if voters catch one of the many television ads blanketing the airwaves, digital ads can boost their retention.
A Nielson study sponsored by Google found that "four-screen" ad campaigns — where people see an ad on a television, on a computer, on their mobile device and on a tablet — increased the amount of key information viewers retained from 22 percent with TV-only ads to 39 percent.
In the United States, 22 percent of adults reported owning tablets, with another 23 percent report planning to buy a tablet in the next six months, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
Smartphone ownership has increased nine percentage points since last year — standing at 44 percent of adults. Further, one-third now uses a mobile device to read and receive news.
--Alicia M. Cohn contributed to this report.
This story was updated at 1:42 p.m.