Behavioral Targeting’s Role in Presidential Campaigns

With the economy in peril and consumer confidence at a low, there’s much at stake in November’s presidential election. Plus, this election will yield a first in history when Americans elect either a 71 year old, a woman, or an African American. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s examine how the current candidates got here and how behavior targeting has helped them.

Last summer, the Republican frontrunner was Rudy Giuliani; now it’s John McCain. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton was “unbeatable” before Barack Obama’s momentum pushed her off the pedestal. By March, McCain had gotten enough delegates to clinch the Republican nomination, and Democrats still have two viable and visible frontrunners in Clinton and Obama, who will probably continue to battle it out until the end of spring for the Democratic nomination.

Political candidates still spend the most dollars on TV ads, with Republican contender Mitt Romney alone investing more than $85,000 a day on TV ads during his failed campaign. Yet there are substantial increases in money spent on online advertising, as many presidential candidates place ads across targeted ad networks.

Clinton, Obama, and McCain all have compelling campaign Web sites. I found it interesting, though, that Clinton’s site directs visitors to a contribution page first and Obama’s directs them to a signup page with a video of him inviting them to join his campaign. McCain’s home page makes an immediate argument on how he can beat Clinton or Obama in the general election using testimonials and charts, apparently in response to those who’ve questioned his ability to be elected against either Democratic candidate.

While Clinton’s and Obama’s campaigns use Web analytic programs like Google Analytics, McCain seems to use the more sophisticated Revenue Science to disseminate some of the information he was getting from his site. However, the tracking code was found only on the home page.

A blog post, “Presidential Candidates and Behavioral Targeting,” by Anil Bantra offers a great how-to for the candidates, “provided they put the tracking code on every single page.” His ideas for using behavioral targeting include:

  • Retarget the site visitor as she navigates within the network.

  • Target the undecided voter with a persuasive message (ad).
  • Segment visitors by what they view on the site.
  • Use a convincing message to encourage visitors to make a campaign contribution.
  • Use the visitor’s offsite behavior to deliver a targeted message once she’s on your site.
  • Use IP geotargeting to identify and buy media in low-traffic geographic locations. Use geotargeting to segment visitors in high-traffic locations to fine-tune the site message.

To these ideas, I’d add using behavioral targeting with an e-mail message that includes a call to action like inviting educators or veterans to have a chance to speak to the candidate in an exclusive virtual town hall meeting.

The behavioral targeting ideas that Bantra’s proposes are all good, and they can help a candidate provide messages that are richer and more meaningful to compel undecided voters to make a committed choice.

It’s also interesting to see how the candidates rate in terms of SEO (define), which can be effective in tracking users through post-search to create a behavioral targeting composite. Michael D. Jensen’s blog post “How do the Presidential Candidates Rate for SEO?” provides some interesting SEO metrics analysis on the top six presidential contenders back in March 2007.

Glance at this article, and you quickly see Giuliani’s campaign failed partly by not having a strong online strategy (he was also the last to market with a TV campaign). He registered his domain name only in 2006, signaling a feeling that a Web presence was only obligatory, not a necessity. On the other hand, Obama’s online media campaign has been tremendously successful with more Technorati links and his (and McCain’s) participation in PPC (define) during this time, suggesting serious SEO efforts on his part.

When Jensen revisited the campaign initiatives in January 2008, the analysis showed Obama had overtaken Clinton on every SEO category. In contrast, McCain trailed in almost every category, overtaken by Romney and Giuliani, who had now ramped up his online media campaign, probably in a last-ditch effort. What does this analysis mean if Obama and McCain go up against each other? Most likely that people who support Obama are more tech literate and get their news and information online. It suggests that McCain’s supporters are older and respond more to traditional media. This is what behavioral targeting can reveal.

The election for the 44th President of the United States is still several months away, but if Obama is victorious, then surely his success would be tied partially to a comprehensive and sound online media campaign that utilized some behavioral targeting analytics. If he wins, would this mark the beginning of behavioral targeting as a greater influence and eventually changing the election landscape forever? We’ll see in 2012 and beyond when more of the today’s teens, who are fluent in high tech, become tomorrow’s voters.

Want more campaign information? Check out our ClickZ News Campaign ’08 section for the latest news and analysis.

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