Presidential Hopefuls, Meet Retargeting

    February 23, 2007

If they want to reach the right person with the right message at the right time, 2008 presidential candidates should consider site behavioral retargeting. Think of it as continuous online rehandshaking.

With more voters researching candidates online than ever before, smart candidates will allocate more of their marketing budget to online display campaigns. Since many candidates have formally entered the election earlier than ever before, they will need to find ways to advertise effectively while spending wisely. With retargeting, they can advertise only to specific voters, and show customized messages to different voters based on their site behavior.

Retargeting ad servers only serve impressions to users that the advertiser specifies. In this case, the candidate’s Web site would drop a cookie onto every computer that visited. Then, when that computer arrived at a publisher site within the ad servers’ network, the server recognizes the cookie and serves a highly-targeted message. Typically, retargeted impressions are charged on a dynamic CPM (cost per thousand impressions). This is a system in which the ad serving marketplace matches the advertiser with a publisher based on the advertiser’s campaign budget and the maximum CPM he’s willing to pay, and charges the advertiser the lowest possible price based on a competitive auction.

Perhaps a comparison to another advertising medium would help illustrate the efficiency of online retargeting. For a TV advertisement, the candidate would pay a CPM based on the networks’ estimated audience. However, the key word there is ‘estimate.’ The data to back up this estimate is about as hard as a mound of Jell-o. In reality, many TV watchers use commercial breaks to go to the bathroom, or to the kitchen to grab a beer, or even surf the Web. A large number of the TV impressions that the candidate pays for are wasted. By only serving impressions to specific users, retargeting eliminates those wasted impressions, ensuring that the advertiser gets exactly what he pays for. That’s an efficient use of a marketing budget.

However, it gets even better when you consider segmentation. Segmentation works by grouping users based on the specific action or actions they made on a site. The ad server then only serves specific ads to members of these groups. For example, let’s say a candidate’s site has an “online donation” function. Many voters will probably come close to using it, but stop during the checkout process. The candidate could then retarget this group of “almost donors” exclusively with messages urging them to complete their donation.

Then, once they’ve donated, the candidate could transfer them into a different voter segment, moving them into the group of “donors.” The candidate could then create a message targeting donors exclusively, perhaps urging them to sign up to be a volunteer, or buy a T-shirt or bumper sticker.

The possibilities here are literally endless. Candidates could even segment their audience by issue. For example, if a candidate had a Web page discussing his or her views on abortion, they could segment every user that visited that page. They could then retarget those users with a message urging them to read a transcript of the candidate’s latest speech on abortion. Deeper analysis of site behavior, like examining referring sites or search engine keywords, might help candidates market exclusively to groups like swing voters, or even voters that belong to the opposite political party.

The benefits of political candidates using retargeting are clear. With smart use of technology and killer analytics, political candidates can use retargeting to make sure that their online display ads reach the right audience at the right price at the right time. It’s simply impossible to do all this with a TV, print, or outdoor campaign. It’s time for candidates to recognize the shift that has occurred in voters’ media consumption habits and allocate their marketing budgets accordingly and efficiently.

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