Karl Rove may not have been at Lollapalooza in Chicago this past weekend, but Crossroads Generation, the youth-aimed group associated with his American Crossroads Super PAC was. Crossroads Generation, or "XG" in teen text speak, aimed mobile ads at people in Grant Park on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, right under the nose of staff at Obama campaign headquarters nearby.
The campaign was a mere trial, but it signals bigger plans for Crossroads Generation, which wanted to test the efficacy of mobile ads targeted to concertgoers' devices using location-based data.
Crossroads Generation is a joint initiative of American Crossroads, College Republican National Committee, Young Republican National Federation, and the Republican State Leadership Committee.
"Obama failed us. We can do better," stated small display ads that showed up when fans of Jack White, The Black Keys, and a host of other bands playing last weekend in the downtown park viewed content on their phones. "We were pretty confident that it would be well targeted because a large percentage of the audience would be using their mobile devices," said Patrick Ruffini, president of Engage, the Republican digital agency that handled the mobile campaign.
On Saturday, kids were checking for local weather information to find out how soon the thunderstorm that eventually led to a temporary evacuation of the music fest would erupt; and when they did, they were likely to see the XG ad. Indeed, chances are some of the Obama for America volunteers collecting contact information from new supporters at the OFA tent there may have ran into the ads.
"We recognize the great opportunity mobile advertising offers campaigns and organizations like ours," said Derek Flowers, executive director of Crossroads Generation in an email. "As a group with a mission to reach young voters, you'll see Crossroads Generation doing much more targeted mobile advertising throughout the fall, in addition to our online and social media presence."
XG supporters "want to stand on our own two feet, but this economy keeps pulling us back down," notes the group's website. "Four years ago, many of us voted for 'hope and change,' and we're still waiting to see what that is supposed to mean."
The fact that the home turf of Obama HQ, which is situated near Grant Park, became the target of the XG campaign is no coincidence. "As we're targeting the youth vote we go everywhere," said Ruffini, adding that the effort was in part intended "to show we are aggressive going into their backyard to reach young voters. I think it's a very important message to send."
While the Lollapalooza initiative was a small test, Ruffini expects to roll out mobile location-based campaigns on a broader scale as the election season progresses. What worked and what didn't during the three-day mini-campaign will inform those future efforts. Part of the thinking is that young people tend to assemble in large groups at events such as big music festivals - or when school starts back up - on campus.
Ultimately, Republicans want to sway young voters away from Obama in the hopes of creating enough of a shift that more states are in play in November.
"Obviously, when you're trying to reach young people in this election, they can congregate in very precise locations...over the summer that's particularly true," said Ruffini.
Engage used ad targeting from ThinkNear, a mobile ad firm backed by Google's venture capital arm that claims to be able to aim ads within 100 meters of any location. Location-based targeting works by delivering ads based on the current location of a mobile device when users have location services enabled. Members of Congress have voiced concerns in recent years regarding the use of location-based data without consent from users.
Last year during the GOP primaries, Rick Perry's campaign used mobile advertising to push pro-Perry messages to students at Christian colleges in Iowa.
Later this March when the Supreme Court heard arguments in relation to the Affordable Care Act, conservative policy think tank American Action Forum aimed ads to mobile devices during specific morning and afternoon hours when people were expected to be outside the Supreme Court Building and other key spots like The Capitol and the 400 N Capitol building, home to several media outlets. The group wanted to generate media coverage of its three amicus briefs.
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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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