GOP Camps Test Data-Driven Online Video Ads for Persuasion

rossi-1Last week, Republican Dino Rossi, candidate for U.S. Senate from Washington, ran expandable video ads targeting key voter segments. The ads featured the same footage that is being used in television spots, and were intended to persuade voters that his opponent, Democratic incumbent Patty Murray, does more for Washington, D.C. than Washington state.

Though it isn’t standard, using online video advertising in political campaigns is certainly not a new concept. What was innovative about the Rossi ads, however, was the research and data informing which voters were served the ads. Republican digital agency Targeted Victory has been working with online audience data and ad targeting firm Lotame for nearly a year to develop a platform for targeting video ads for voter persuasion or mobilization.

The firms hope that the system they’re developing, which is based in part on regular voter surveys and behavioral data, helps move more money political campaign online – particularly for persuasion – which until now has been almost the exclusive domain of television advertising. Online video is slowly being recognized by political campaigns as a valuable way to extend a TV campaign’s frequency, as well as reach voters who aren’t watching the tube.


According to Michael Beach, partner at Targeted Victory, the company’s political clients spent between 65 and 75 percent of their online budgets on video ads in the past. Now, he said, “the campaigns that get it” are spending around 85 percent of those budgets on video ads.

“All our state-wides will be using [the Lotame platform],” said Targeted Victory Partner Zac Moffatt, referring to state-wide political campaign clients. “This is the culmination of a year of collaboration,” he continued. The agency and its partners at Lotame have been testing the targeting platform primarily on behalf of two current candidates – Rossi, and Marco Rubio, a Republican running for U.S. Senate in Florida – since their August primary elections. The tests have involved in-banner and expandable video ads, as well as pre-roll video. Targeted Victory has also used Mixpo, and VideoEgg, along with YouTube pre-roll for some video ad campaigns.

Rather than guess what types of content a voter segment engages in, the companies have used an ongoing series of surveys combined with data on where certain types of audiences go online and what they do, in order to devise audience segments.

“We may survey several thousand people several months [after conducting a similar survey] and look for differences and swings in their behavior and attributes,” said Eric Porres, CMO at Lotame.

They’re able to tease out connections between desired voter segments (women living in Manatee County, FL, for instance) and various online behaviors and interests, then target those segments behaviorally based on that data. For instance, Lotame can target “green-living” Democrats with master’s degrees who engage in content including games, fitness, finance, healthcare, and politics, and watch videos and post comments. Or, they can find Republicans with a household income of less than $60,000 with interests in art, technology, and sports, who look at photos online.

“We’re not targeting a base audience here,” explained Beach. Political campaigns typically use online ads for fundraising and to build lists of e-mail addresses and other contact information. Those ads, however, are often aimed at likely supporters – for example, on relevant political sites or retargeted to people who have already visited the candidate’s website.

The idea is to aim persuasive video ads at audiences outside the typical supporter groups who might be receptive to the message, and therefore persuadable. “If you’re running on RedState in October, you’ve probably got bigger issues,” said Moffatt, alluding to Republican campaigns running ads on the conservative news site late in an election season.

“When you talk to the more established [political] consultants, they understand this is a persuasion [tool],” Moffatt added.

Ideally, the companies hope providing timely reports for the video persuasion campaigns convince budget makers to include online video – and digital media in general – as a more standard line item for persuasion, along with television and radio. The partners are working to develop robust reports “that take into account the timeliness of political campaigns,” said Beach.

“When you can talk about lift…and there are control groups and variable groups…reporting becomes more sophisticated. There are more ways to create a balanced media plan for a campaign,” Moffatt said.

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