Big Data From Democratic Party Spawns Web Ad Targeting Firm

Austin, TX – Online political ad networks are by no means a new concept, but the use of data from Catalist, the biggest and most trusted Democratic database brings the hyper targeted capabilities of political direct mail to a recently-launched online ad targeting firm. A partnership between Catalist and online ad targeting and data company Collective has spawned DSPolitical, an ad targeting outfit serving Democrats and progressive groups.

“I honestly think this technology will cause Democrats to spend upwards of 15 percent of their media budgets on online ads this cycle,” said Jim Walsh, co-founder and CEO of DSPolitical.

That would be a feat, considering many political consultants are still reluctant to embrace online advertising to the degree they have direct mail, which is reflected in ad budget allocations. On average, spending on web ads often amounts to closer to 5 percent for political campaigns.

The six-month old firm worked with political pollsters to develop audience segments important to Democrats in 2012 in the hopes of giving the party a competitive edge online this cycle. Catalist counts several Democratic Party organizations and labor unions among its clients.

“Catalist comes up with models that enable you to know, for instance, potentially high turnout Democrats…those that are most likely not to vote, folks that might be unregistered voters but if they were registered, they’d be Democrats, things like that,” said Walsh. From there, demographics like sex, age, religion, urban, and suburban can be incorporated. Catalist was founded by Clinton White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes.

DSPolitical targets in-banner and pre-roll video advertising, along with display ads, including expandable units, for its clients. One Collective display format expands to present a YouTube video that includes in-ad plays in the YouTube count. DSPolitical is selling on a CPM basis.

While optimizing its own data for the DSPolitical partnership, Collective created a political influencer segment combining data on registered voters with behavior such as political content consumption and engagement in online discussions about political issues.

The partners sent their data sets to a third-party data matching firm to produce an anonymized data set allowing DSPolitical to target niche groups of voters while maintaining privacy protection. In the past, the Republican National Committee took a similar approach, using an outside data matching firm to combine the RNC’s rich voter file data with user registration data from Yahoo, AOL, and MSN to enable ad targeting on those sites while protecting personally identifiable information.

In 2008, Obama for America used voter file matching to target online ads to Democrats in 10 battleground states.

“We want to make sure we don’t do anything that violates people’s life, liberty, and the pursuit of privacy,” said Walsh, while speaking at the American Association of Political Consultants conference here.

CampaignGrid, which works with GOP candidates and organizations, is another firm incorporating voter file data to target online ads. The firm employs several data sets including the Republican National Committee’s voter data to target voters online.

UPDATE: This story originally incorrectly stated that Obama for America is a current Catalist client, but it is no longer a client. Also, it reported that OFA worked with Catalist in 2008 to match voter file data for a 10-state ad targeting test, which Catalist said is incorrect. , and Obama for America – the president’s reelection campaign –

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