The 2012 Election Goes Hyperlocal With Targeted Online Ad Buys

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Online advertising for the 2012 election is all about “addressability,” says Jordan Lieberman, managing director of Campaign Grid, which bills itself as “the online advertising platform for campaigns and causes.”

The organization allows campaign managers to target specific groups of people based on how they are likely to vote. In essence, likely Democrats see one ad on their browser while likely Republicans see another. Or, more granularly, a probable Ron Paul supporter gets one ad delivered and someone in Mitt Romney’s wheelhouse gets served something else. This is the future, ladies and gentlemen.

Street Fight recently spoke with Lieberman, as well as to Campaign Grid’s co-founder and CEO Jeff Dittus, about what kinds of online ad buys we can expect to see from the parties in the coming months, and why TV remains a vital part of the political equation.

What do you think will be the turning point for hyperlocal political advertising?
Dittus: The watershed moment in hyperlocal is when TV becomes addressable and targetable via offline voter data. This year, small steps will move in that direction. Today, we can target online video with offline data, and a watershed moment is a coordinated, hyperlocal, cable television buy, with online display, video and mobile ads in the same geography. The added bonus is the online audience targets are only known registered voters. This multi-channel approach is looking to be the big story in 2012.

How much is online advertising spending increasing?
Dittus: [Online ad spending is] increasing from 1% of communication budgets in 2008, to 3%  in 2010, to 7-to-10% this year.  The rate of growth is higher than ever, and sophisticated data-driven hyperlocal advertising will be done by 30 to 40 percent of campaigns.

What are some trends you’re seeing?
Dittus: The interactivity and transparency of how many voters respond, interact and are mobilized is driving more and more campaigns to make online mainstream in campaigning and voter contact. Also, the elimination of waste by only contacting voters, coupled with a much lower cost, on a CPM basis, than television is also driving this trend.

What is the No. 1 takeaway leading up to the election?
Lieberman: The headline is that this is a data-driven election. It’s all about addressability and eliminating waste in advertising. Anything that is addressable is good, and anything that is not addressable is bad. The challenge is that with other addressable media such as mail and phones, the postal service is going out of business and telemarketing doesn’t work like it used to. That leaves targeted online advertising.

“This is a data-driven election. It’s all about addressability and eliminating waste in advertising. Anything that is addressable is good, and anything that is not addressable is bad.” — Campaign Grid’s Jordan Lieberman.

Diving deeper into addressability, I think hyperlocal would be baby steps towards addressability. When I think of hyperlocal, I think of a neighborhood or a zip code, which is pretty cool but that’s still a generation behind where we are now. What we’re doing is targeted targeting audience based on their characteristics, which is more than hyperlocal. That’s individuals. Not by name, because we’re protecting PII, but we’re addressing the online ad to the individual, not just the neighborhood. That’s really the holy grail because you’ve cut waste down from some to nearly nil.

Do you see any difference between how political parties buy?
Lieberman: With addressable online media, the geeks are really in charge. And the geeks are a lot less partisan than most people. So you’re not seeing a wide variation from party to party.

What’s the next step?
Lieberman: There’s definitely more to learn. In terms of the research and the analytics, the data exhaust is where the next step is. We can analyze the data exhaust and create a feedback loop to do a better job in buying online media.

Rather than targeting media markets or areas with television, we’re targeting likely voters or Repulbicans or Democrats in those areas. Literally, one person can be seeing one ad and the other can be seeing a different one depending on their voting patterns.

What are the mechanisms that need to be in place for that to happen?
Lieberman: I think the cable industry needs to catch up a little bit with their technology. Obviously, that’s where the main interest lies. Using the online targeting as the model for building new hardware to be able to create addressable televisions.

Is that something that happens in one year? Three years?
Lieberman: Call it one-to-three. You’re seeing tiny bits of this already, although it’s not at the scale yet where it’s attractive. But it’s coming fast.

Noah Davis is senior editor at Street Fight. He previously covered media at and Business Insider as well as during multiple stints of full-time freelancing. He has written for The Wall Street Journal,,,, and many other publications.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Related Street Fight coverage: Will the 2012 Election Be a Hyperlocal Breakthrough? [VIDEO]