Originally published: April 29, 2012
Last updated: April 29, 2012 - 1:55pm
For a generation now, a campaign manager has been able to select a list of, say, 100,000 names to receive a pre-election get-out-the-vote reminder and feel confident that the reminder will reach only those 100,000 voters—and not their neighbors. The voters’ addresses can be delivered to a mail vendor (who merges them onto glossy leaflets) or placed on a walk list (which a field director hands to canvassers), or the voters’ telephone numbers can be given to a phone vendor (whose call centers will reach them with live operators or by robocall).
This year, for the first time, campaign managers in races of all sizes will have a new option: individual-level targeting of Web ads. In this scenario, there is a crucial intermediate step. The 100,000 names selected for targeted communication are then matched to Internet cookies, which allows a campaign to buy ads on only those pages visited by its targeted voters. This represents one dimension of the most important innovation of the 2012 election cycle: the ability to match an individual’s online and offline identities. It means that campaigns can now target voters wherever they are, even if they’re at their vacation home for the summer or spend most of their online time in corners of the Internet where people do not typically seek out political content. As a result, individual targeting marks a crucial step in the maturing of the Web from a media platform and forum for fundraising and activist organizing to a corridor for direct voter contact. But even if campaigns have finally acquired the technical capacity to target Web ads with the precision of mail or a door-do-door canvass, they are not using it that way.
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