Building Precision with People-Based Marketing

Lessons from campaign targeting

Until recently, political advertising was as rudimentary as commercial advertising. Campaigns understood which precincts to target, and within those precincts, the party identification, age, gender and turnout history of individual voters. They could reach individuals with phone calls and door knocks, but to engage voters with advertising, they had to spend enormous sums of money on broadcast media, most of which missed its intended audience.

This is a familiar story to anyone who’s worked on political campaigns and to anyone engaged in commercial marketing.

The early internet promised advertisers—political and commercial—further opportunity to meet their constituents and customers where they were and serve them messaging relevant to their interests. It stood to reason that a consumer visiting a hotel website might be interested in an ad for cheap airfare, or that a registered voter browsing a political news site would be keen to learn about the next opportunity to cast a ballot for their party.

This static, one-dimensional internet was capable of following users across the network of websites they visited, piecing together enough user-specific data to create cookie-based profiles so that advertisers could target their messages accordingly. But these profiles couldn’t enable precision targeting. And as the internet evolved beyond browser-based environments to become a cross-device world of different formats and channels (desktop, mobile, tablet, in-app, livestreaming, the Internet of Things, OTT television), cookies became ineffective at tracking user activity from one device to another.

The impact of walled gardens

Walled gardens don’t have this challenge. They can leverage their deterministic data for people-based targeting. Marketers buying ads on the Facebook News Feed, Google Search and YouTube can use their CRM data to engage specific individuals in a targeted conversation. Do you want to hit your existing email list? Find people with certain interests? Facebook and Google can do it.

The same is true of people-based political advertising. Facebook and Google are the gold standard because they enable campaigns to leverage voter files, as well as voter modeling built from extensive consumer data and survey work, to reach specific voters with specific messages. Until recently, that’s been impossible to accomplish on the open internet.

The problem with walled gardens is that they aren’t transparent and allow very limited access to data and measurement. This restricts the availability of insights, tracking and attribution, and also precludes standardized performance measurement across the media buy. Walled gardens also restrict the number of places where political or issues campaigns can reach their voters, or where brands can reach consumers.

And this is the juncture where walled gardens fail advertisers—barred from matching their user data to Facebook’s user IDs, they are denied insight into whether their advertising worked. After an ad touting Nike’s latest running shoes was served to him, did John Smith go buy a pair? After the registration prompts,  election reminders and campaign messages, did John actually turn up to cast his ballot?

Precision targeting on the open internet

Technology companies of the open internet need to make it as simple to achieve the precise, people-based targeting on the high-quality sites and apps where consumers spend the bulk of their time as it is on Facebook, Google Search and YouTube. Further, we need to share that data so marketers can match it with their own data sets and learn from their campaigns.

To do this, the open internet needs a scaled deterministic data set that can be integrated into marketer attribution tools. Co-ops like the Advertising ID Consortium, of which AppNexus is a founding member, allow many partners to contribute their cookie and device IDs to map to an accessible people-based identifier. This privacy-conscious omnichannel identity framework enables publishers, marketers and ad tech companies to create people-based products that paint a comprehensive portrait of a user that can’t be replicated by walled gardens.

Already, we’re testing important applications of this new capability. This month, AppNexus partnered with Democracy Works, a nonpartisan organization that sought to use advertising on the open internet to drive turnout among registered voters in Virginia and New Jersey, both of which will hold gubernatorial elections on November 7.

Leveraging the voter files in each state, Democracy Works was able to identify its target universe; it then worked with our Consortium partner, LiveRamp, to build a cookie segment and delivered get-out-the-vote ads to its intended audience. We plan to take the learnings from this pilot campaign to help Democracy Works scale its efforts in 2018 and beyond, and to help marketers achieve the same precision on the open internet that they currently enjoy on Facebook.

It’s time to shift the paradigm from cookie-based to people-based targeting as the internet itself grows more expansive and personalized, beyond even the largest walled gardens. In a country where just over half of the eligible voting population participates in the highest election in the land, this type of targeting can do more than move the needle for brands—it can upgrade the infrastructure of our democracy.