As Election Nears, Location Targeting Can Help Deliver The Right Political Ads

loren-hillberg"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Todays column is written by Loren Hillberg, president at Thinknear by Telenav.

Geography and gerrymandering have conspired to create 435 congressional districts of distinctly irregular shapes and sizes, with extremely diverse populations.

Winners of The Washington Post’s 2011 “Name that District” contest, for example, christened Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District “The Praying Mantis” for its elongated shape and bulbous appendages. Other oddities include Pennsylvania’s 7th (“Goofy Kicking Donald Duck”) and Texas’s 45th (“The Upside-Down Elephant”).

These districts, which are holding elections next month, cause complications for political marketers as they reach out to citizens in the final days of the campaign. With Election Day upon us, digital marketers working in the political sphere need to be hyper-focused on targeting the right voters with the right ads.

Traditional advertising means taking a blanket approach to political ads based on the greater metropolitan area. That’s why someone in Manhattan might see TV ads for a congressman running for re-election in North Jersey. But digital advertising, specifically mobile, doesn’t operate on such a broad geographic boundaries. Mobile location tells us exactly which congressional district a person is in, at the exact moment we want to reach out to them – assuming they have enabled location tracking. Shouldn’t we use that information to target voters?

As political marketers plot their final push before November 4, they must carefully consider how they deploy their digital political ads.

Zip Codes Don’t Cut It

Many apps ask users to enter their zip codes the first time they are opened. But as districts like The Praying Mantis demonstrate, congressional districts don’t follow zip codes. So relying on ad inventory from publishers that only have self-reported zip code information will create a lot of misses for marketers trying to target voters in narrowly defined districts.

In a congressional election, visiting a neighbor across the street could mean stepping into a different district. This makes accuracy a critical component for message delivery, perhaps even more important than the creative that accompanies it. Location gives political marketers the opportunity to craft district-specific messaging and the ability to hit specific targets and avoid the inefficiencies inherent in targeting broader geographic regions.

Look Within A District

Merely targeting a district based on who is running in it, however, isn’t enough. Marketers should also consider who lives in it. Location data can help marketers learn about the demographics in an area so that they can determine which issues are most important and build and deploy their messages accordingly.

Age, political affiliation, income, religious beliefs and other demographics can vary widely within a district, so it’s not enough to say, “Vote Candidate Donkey” or “Vote Candidate Elephant” to its residents. Rather, the high number of minors living in one corner of a district might suggest that residents would want to know about the public education positions of Candidate Donkey and Candidate Elephant. Older, wealthier residents in another corner of the district, however, are perhaps more concerned with how Candidate Donkey and Candidate Elephant will address the estate tax.

Be Relevant, Don’t Berate

Political ads are loud and tend to point fingers more than point out issues. This helps to capture attention on TV or in print, but mobile is a much more personal medium. Instead of inundating consumers with election-focused ads, political marketers would do well to think about the best times to reach potential constituents.

This goes beyond location and demographic: What can be inferred about consumers’ lifestyles based on their behavior with their mobile devices?

Make ads contextually relevant, taking into account time of day, day of the week and probable activity, such as if a mobile device owner might not be receptive to politicians’ ads while at the gym or at work. Hitting a consumer when they aren’t in the right mindset for a particular message can be ultimately destructive to a campaign.

Understanding the diversity among voters within a congressional district and how to target these voters accordingly means that the right voters will be targeted with the right candidates and the right issues.

Once political marketers can execute this kind of targeting, they will be able to design and implement an enduring effort to engage their constituencies throughout a candidate’s campaign and term in office. Mobile is a great way to build a longer-term relationship with citizens, and location targeting means engaging the constituency that matters.

Follow Loren Hillberg (@lhillberg), Thinknear (@Thinknear) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.


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