All Politics Is Data for 2016 and Beyond

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The saying used to be that “all politics is local.” A more appropriate term for the 2016 election cycle might be “all politics is data.”

The 2012 presidential campaign awakened politicians on both sides of the aisle to the opportunities presented by sophisticated local media targeting, both via traditional channels, most notably TV, and online. In 2016, key states won’t be the only battlegrounds; there will be equally hard-fought contests to win local media markets.

“After Kennedy won the election in 1960, everyone attributed that to the debates. At that point, no one after that questioned whether powder should be applied when you went on TV. I think of it that way in terms of looking at data from local sources in political planning and ad buying — no one’s debating whether that should be done anymore,” said Carol Davidsen, Rentrak‘s vice president of politics and a veteran of President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, in a panel discussion at last month’s Street Fight Summit.

Rocket Fuel's JC Medici and Rentrak's Carol Davidsen speaking at last month's Street Fight Summit
Rocket Fuel’s JC Medici and Rentrak’s Carol Davidsen speaking at last month’s Street Fight Summit

All signs indicate rival campaigns are moving full steam ahead to outspend each other at both the national and local level, making political ad spending a sizable growth market next year. It’s forecast to reach $11.4 billion in 2016, up 20 percent from 2012, according to Borrell Associates. Add in 2015 spending and the total rises to $16.5 billion. Half of that will go to local contests. At 51 percent, broadcast TV remains the leading advertising channel, but digital will break the $1 billion mark in 2016, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the total political advertising pie and demonstrating that even the often slow-moving political machinery is starting to retool to move at the speed of consumers.

What’s different this time around is the quantity, quality, and availability of digital data. “You’re now able to scale a lot of these local campaigns that you weren’t able to do before,” said JC Medici, national director of politics and advocacy for Rocket Fuel. “In 2012, it was more about content and context, and now it’s about the audience and placing the ad in the right environment. The data has improved.”

In fact, if anything, with their emphasis on audience and local targeting and their growing adoption of programmatic buying, political campaigns have begun to increasingly resemble marketing campaigns. Just as location history has become a key indicator of consumer interest and a prime factor in audience targeting, Tel Aviv-based mobile marketing platform Ubimo is betting that historical voting data will provide an additional layer of contextual detail.

As of yesterday, Ubimo has combined its standard array of local data, such as household income, ethnicity, events, and weather, with historical congressional and presidential voting data mapped down to the precinct level. The company claims this combination of data layers is unique among marketing providers. Per MarketingLand, there are at least antecedents among companies such as FollowAnalytics, MediaBrix, and MobileFuse.

Still, if all politics is data, there’s no doubt that added data granularity will be valuable to political campaigns in the current election cycle, a point echoed by Rocket Fuel’s Medici. “The more I can have a centralized, 360-degree view of a voter,” he said, “the more understanding I can have of offline and online data, the more meaningful the engagement can be. Being able to have that unified offline and online data is key to running successful campaigns.” Those same data sets should prove useful to marketers as well, since richer audience profiles based on real-world intent data are integral to today’s targeting efforts.

With politicians learning to think like marketers and marketers targeting based on politics, among many contextual factors, courtesy of Ubimo and other providers, it sounds like all politics is marketing and all politics is marketing, and that data — local data — is enabling the convergence.

Noah Elkin is Street Fight’s managing editor.