Google just launched truer congressional district targeting, which could help it keep an edge over Facebook and other ad networks in 2012 for U.S. House races.
The National Republican Congressional Committee is spending $50,000 on YouTube ads aimed using just-launched congressional district targeting from Google. The video ads push an economic message out to key districts in California, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, and West Virginia.
It's not the first time nor will it be the last that a digital media firm will say it can target by district. However, Google continues to command a large chunk of online ad dollars spent by political advertisers up and down the ballot and the enhancement seems to be among the truer forms of district targeting.
The NRCC YouTube video spots launched yesterday and are aimed at West Virginia's and California's third districts, Iowa's first, Maine's second, and Ohio's 16th. The organization will spend $10,000 in each of the five districts and expects to run the ads until that money runs out.
"These are districts where we think the message Democrats are pushing - that we need to raise taxes - is not going to resonate with voters," said NRCC Digital Director Gerrit Lansing.
By easing the process of targeting congressional districts - many of which have recently changed since the 2010 census - Google could generate more money from House campaigns and other local campaigns in 2012, as well as draw new money from small local campaigns previously reluctant to give digital advertising a try.
Online ad networks often say they can target congressional districts when they're not quite able to target to that precise level. For instance, in the past Google has allowed advertisers to simulate voting district targeting by creating a custom targeted region using a map tool.
Others claim to drill down to local voter districts. Republican political ad network and platform Campaign Grid targets to "voter zones." AOL has offered congressional district targeting for some time now. And early this year, Yahoo's political ad rep firm Cox Digital said it can aim ads on Yahoo and Cox sites to specific congressional districts using IP mapping and proprietary data.
"Until this advancement, the best you could do was Zip+4," said Lansing. When drawing district lines on a virtual map to target, "You invariably bleed, and so this is more efficient," he added.
According to Google, it is using IP address targeting along with district boundary data to aim ads more narrowly to districts. However, as Google admits on its own advertising site, IP targeting isn't perfect. "We determine where a customer might be located using the Internet Protocol (IP) address of the customer's computer," notes Google on its AdWords support site. "An IP address is a publicly available signal that indicates where the computer is probably located, but it doesn't provide an exact location."
In recent years, Google has ceded some of its dominance in the online political ad market to Facebook, which this election season is attracting a healthy chunk of digital ad money from campaigns. Both Google and Facebook - which allow city and Zip code level targeting - aim to corner the market on local advertising and that includes local political races. Google's combination of ad formats including video, a relatively simple buying process, and district targeting options will keep it competitive in the local political market.
Google expects the new targeting capability to be especially helpful in recently redistricted areas. In a blog post about the new targeting, Charles Scrase of Google's Politics and Elections team uses Maryland's 6th district, where 10-term incumbent Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett is battling to hold on to his seat against Democratic businessman John Delaney, as an example. The competitive district is one encompassing multiple Zip codes where without hyper-congressional district targeting, ad impressions could be wasted on voters in nearby districts.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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