How to Reach Off-the-Grid Voters in Ohio

Romney's digital director stresses importance of online advertising

Yesterday at Personal Democracy Forum, a yearly gathering of technologists and political elites, Mitt Romney's digital director Zac Moffatt laid out an interesting challenge facing his boss and President Obama—particularly in the key swing state of Ohio. Namely, how do you engage with voters Moffatt has labelled "off the griders," i.e., people that are opting out of live TV in favor of DVR's to skip over ads.

Both Moffatt and Michael Beach of political interactive ad agency Targeted Victory (a firm Moffatt helped to co-found) spoke to separate crowds about the off-the-grid phenomenon and the importance of online advertising. In fact, according to an in-house study conducted by Targeted Victory and SAY Media, 31 percent of likely 2012 voters are not watching live TV. Per Moffat, the numbers are even higher in Ohio, a state where Romney and Obama are expected to compete fiercely.

Moffatt was quick to note that digital was not out to replace the role of television, but rather amplify it. When it comes to persuading online voters, Moffatt argues for sophisticated targeting (naturally, that's a task that the Romney campaign has hired Targeted Victory and other data firms to help accomplish). "This is going to be the first cycle that persuasion and mobilization become a core component of the digital online advertising experience," Moffatt told the crowd. He said a holistic digital approach is more important than piecemeal strategies that rely too heavily on a specific social network or digital avenue.

Using the Web in a signficant way to get the vote out would be a breakthrough of sorts for online advertising. Politicians are traditionally risk averse and in love with the power of TV. Even as much praise as Obama received in 2008 for his digital prowess, his campaign used the Web far more for fundraising than for "vote for me" messaging.

The two-day appearance by Moffatt at Personal Democracy Forum appeared in stark contrast to the tight-lipped Obama campaign, which has refused to discuss digital initiatives in any specific detail. Moffatt made reference to this during his presentation, alluding to a recent Politico piece on Obama's digital strategy. "That article didn't say anything," Moffatt said.

"I could have written that article for them without talking to one person," Moffatt continued." If you don't believe they have people outside the campaign whose companies are powering the data you don't understand how data works."

While the future of political advertising and voter targeting is very much in a state of flux, one trend is certain if you are a new or longtime voter: your information is being processed and you are being targeted.

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