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Description: Political campaigns, which have borrowed tricks from Madison Avenue for decades, are now fully engaged on the latest technological frontier in advertising: aiming specific ads at potential supporters based on where they live, the Web sites they visit and their voting records.


Date: Feb 20, 2012

In recent primaries, two kinds of Republican voters have been seeing two different Mitt Romney video ads pop up on local and national news Web sites. The first, called “It’s Time to Return American Optimism,” showed the candidate on the campaign trail explaining how this was an election “to save the soul of America.” It was aimed at committed party members to encourage a large turnout. The second video ad, geared toward voters who have not yet aligned themselves with a candidate, focused more on Mr. Romney as a family man. Versions of the two ads were seen online in Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.   Read Rest of Story

Questions for discussion:

  1. Do you feel that the use and success of micro targeting will stop campaigns from macro targeting in the future??
    2.  Do you feel that this practice of micro targeting is healthy for democracy or just an abuse of sophisticated info systems?

10 Responses to “Online Data Helping Campaigns Customize Ads”

  1. IDR

    Targeting ads for a specific target market is something that is right and wrong at the same time. On one hand, I can see how candidates are using an effective way to advertise their campaigns by using marketing firms. From the business point of view, there is nothing wrong with that. You have to do what you have to do to win, and as long as it is legal, I do not see why candidates would not do it. It just makes sense. On the other hand, there is an ethic issue I would think, since some of those ads are designed for people to hear what they want to hear. The breast cancer story is one of those good examples that show that the candidates are not being entirely honest with the public; they are manipulating the media with the sole purpose of bringing numbers in, of misleading people into voting for someone that has no interest in the people or real democracy.

  2. MJJ

    I do not think that micro targeting will ever replace macro targeting when it comes to political campaigns. The use of micro targeting seems to me to be essentially preaching to the choir. By targeting specific groups of people who already support or seem inclined to your way of thinking, the candidate is just confirming votes that were most likely already theirs, instead of appealing to the general public to try and sway voters to your side. By catering to the extreme left or right for possible votes, the candidate risks alienating the much larger middle ground, and having to back pedal at some point to find that happy medium again.

    The ads targeting people’s weak points (like the breast cancer example in the article) are, to me, a very clear abuse of the sophisticated info systems available. I may just be averse to this way of campaigning because it is not the norm in Canada. Not yet anyway. Apparently the current Canadian government has sent key staffers down to the Republican ‘training camps’ in the US to learn new campaigning techniques. I find the fact that the American way of campaigning, focusing on the opponents perceived negative qualities or actions instead of emphasizing your own positive attributes, may be further rearing its ugly head in Canada quite disturbing.

    But this whole argument may be for naught, because who really pay attention to the ads that pop up on their computer anyway?

  3. Sarah Fletcher

    I do not think that this practice is healthy for democracy. If quantitatively different messages are being advertised for the same candidate then what does the candidate really stand for? If their message is different to different people then how can we know what the candidates actually stand for? It makes it impossible for voters to make an educated decision as to who they would vote for. This is total abuse of the sophisticated information system. I do not think we can still call this a democracy because voters have no idea who they are really voting in. I think this will defeat the purpose of voting in the first place.
    I do think that the use and success of micro targeting will stop campaigns from macro targeting in the future. What corporation would waste money macro targeting voters when they can personalize a message designed for each group of the voting community? It’s the perfect marketing plan for political candidates. If they can pinpoint what certain people want to hear and tell them that then they are automatically on board with the political candidate. I cannot think of a more effective marketing plan to be honest. However, I think this crosses many ethical boundaries.

  4. knwe

    Microtargeting is a more effective way for candidates to spend their advertising budget, and reach their target markets. I think macro targeting must still exist though, because the overall campaign platform must be consistent across the country, and the micro targeting can help target certain parts of the candidate’s platforms to citizens who they feel the political issue will benefit.
    I think this process is healthy for democracy only in an idealistic world . Ideally, it would educate as many registered voters as possible on the platforms of each party so that they can make an informed decision. However, this is often not the case in political campaigns as most turn out to be a competition of who can steal the most votes from their competition.
    I can see where the candidates are coming from though, and as a candidate, you have to focus on the segments of the population that are most likely to vote, and those happen to be the ones who are on the registered voter’s list (and hopefully the person who would do the best job, wins). This is where it is still important to allocate some of the advertising budget to macro targeting because people who are not on the voter’s list maybe just haven’t registered. The majority of targeting should be micro targeting towards ensuring guaranteed votes, because otherwise, your opposition will take those votes from you. Voting is a cutthroat popularity game, whichever candidate has the most positive perceptions following their campaign, by the people who are actually registered to vote will receive those votes, whether they are the best person for the presidential candidacy or not.

  5. Michael

    I believe that it is excellent that someone can target their ads to a specific demographic of people. This requires a lot of information to do and in this day and age it is awesome that people are able to successfully do it. I believe that there will always be a market for macro targeted ads even if it does become less pricey to do see as there are always ads everywhere. No form of advertising has ever bit the dust some are unpopular but that does not mean it will not work. I am sure that as ads become more sophisticated people will have their needs better meet as a company can target a specific subset of individuals that they know will enjoy their product. Danger comes from this however by allowing people to target consumers who are traditionally open to exploitation and scams such as the mentally disabled and elderly because they can more easily influenced about what is actually happening and this can be used to manipulate them into being conned. I think this is minor issue that we need to be aware of overall this type of micro ad targeting is great and I am happy to see that people are using it.

  6. Scotty

    There is no place in democracy for people who choose to micro target people. How can they really be considered candidates if they are giving different messages to different people. It takes the honesty our of the system and misleads voters into believing in someone who i would go as far as to consider a fraud. It is against all morals, and how on earth will you be able to deliver on a promise or take action when the message passed on is always altered in order to get the winning crowd? Politics are slowly but surely becoming more unrested due to the lack of rules that are set in place and what we consider to be honest and legal, this is one of the main reasons i refuse to vote, because half of these people are just scammers, though politics is important and the reason the world is such a free place, with exception to those who live in dictatorships. The marketing plan is ideal in the situation where they can target individuals rather large groups of people so i understand why they are doing it an hey lets face it just like KONI 2012 if someone hears something they like they tend to jump on the band wagon. My question is are you next??

  7. aaron

    With the internet as it is today, it opens a whole new door to marketing, not matter what you market. Micro targeting is a brilliant idea, however it is very invasive. Politics have pushed boundaries for as far back as I can remember, but this is something that I don’t agree with. The success of this is obviously worth the money to them as they keep spending. With social networking I cant imagine the voter possibilities that may be waiting to be uncovered. With tactics like the breast cancer add it would spread fast on something like facebook or twitter like many of the other useless popular materials on those sites. I think this is abuse of information systems because it does not seem to be fair play to me. And no I don’t mean that just a few are using it, I mean morally. When a politicians campains are focused on peoples weakness’s this stretches the moral fabric of manipulation. I think that using the internet to focus your advertising is not always a bad thing, it could lead to great advantages, but when it does that at the cost of our privacy I can not condone micro targeting.

  8. smartcampaigns

    Micro-targeting does have more advantages, so yeah, political campaigns should use it more often. It would still be a good idea to have a uniform idea or message across all of it’s ads, but micro-targeting seems like the smart way to campaign. There is nothing wrong with adapting your image to your audience. These politicians are, after all, attempting to sell their image to as many people as possible. This would show me, as a voter, whether I was undecided or not, that a certain campaign was doing everything it could to appeal to the people. That is how a democracy works, it should work for the people. As long as the messages did not contradict each other in any way, I believe this is very healthy for democracy.

  9. Josh

    While on the surface microtargeting seems to be something out of the future and daunting that the potential government can pinpoint who they want to delivery which message to and what time, it is something that I feel is inevitable in campaigning in the future. I personally do not resonate to closely with it because I feel like it is going to create many inconsistencies and discrepancies when trying to get facts regarding each potential candidate, but ultimately it is something that i can see working very successfully in getting the point each candidate wants to get out to each unique party. the ethics of campaigning are something that need to be consistently evaluated and dealt with on an on going basis, and i may be jaded and somewhat cynical to this but if it is something that is going to result in successful outcomes then the users are going to take full advantage of it. And this will hold true whether it is marketing of a product or a person.

  10. Claudia

    I believe that each campaign will still begin on a macro scale. However just as every business has begun to market in a far more microeconomic sense; focussing on specific demographics, it would only make sense that politicians would use the same tactic to gain supporters. I think it is a smart strategy to be able to properly convey a candidates diversity. People don’t necessarily want to always see candidates with one face and one message, they want to see people who they can relate to, who they think will uphold their interests; Someone who can spend money properly on conveying the right intentions, not just focussing on mass production of a single message.

    In terms of weather or not its good for democracy, I feel it will make our leader choice more difficult. As political candidates diversify and show more dynamic ways of leading, the choices become more complex and confusing for some. This may discourage some from getting involved; when the initial intent should always be to just get people to vote.

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