A group of political strategists with familiar names in Washington circles are putting their money behind a new online ad network firm hoping to corner the beltway market. Officially launching today, Resonate aims to pick up where traditional ad network targeting leaves off, by pinpointing ads to people based on how they stand on issues such as taxes, foreign policy, or global warming.
“We haven’t had the ability in the policy advertising arena to carefully target the audiences we’re trying to reach, and that’s been a real shortcoming as we’ve tried to influence legislation,” said Rich Tarplin, one of the investors in Alexandria, VA.-based Resonate. Tarplin served as assistant secretary for legislation at the Department of Health and Human Services under President Clinton, and worked as an aide to Sen. Chris Dodd and former Rep. Leon Panetta, both Democrats. His lobbying firm Tarplin Strategies serves financial and healthcare clients including the American Medical Association and Genentech.
His wife, Linda Tarplin, a Republican consultant who worked for the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, is also an investor in Resonate, he said.
Resonate, founded by political data pioneers Sara Taylor and John Brady, has raised $2 million in its first round of funding. The company and its investors believe Resonate’s proprietary survey-based data on Web users and their political beliefs fulfills a need unique to policy and advocacy advertisers. Ad targeting efficiencies have driven recent investments in ad networks targeting more general corporate advertisers as well.
Taylor is credited with helping develop George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign’s micro-targeted ad efforts. Brady is chairman of strategic consulting firm OnPoint Advocacy and helped bring technology to Republican campaigns during the 1980s. Other Resonate investors include Clinton White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes, Democratic strategist and media advisor Steve McMahon, and Alex Gage, CEO and founder of micro-targeting firm TargetPoint Consulting and senior strategist for the Romney for President Campaign.
The firm conducts its own research to determine where people stand on issues such as universal healthcare or product safety. “The infrastructure was built to do these large scale waves of research on a regular basis,” said Resonate COO Andy Hunn. The survey information is combined with data on things like media consumption, voting history, and the likelihood of someone to take action regarding an issue, resulting in several hundred attributes for advertisers to target. The company, which employs only non personally-identifiable data, calls its approach attitudinal targeting.
For example, the methodology would allow advertisers to “find supporters of drilling offshore in the highest concentrations online,” said Hunn. The network offers CPM-based display, rich media and in-stream video ads.
During the 2008 presidential election, many primary campaigns as well as Barack Obama’s and John McCain’s campaigns used online ad networks such as Advertising.com and Google to target users based on demographic and geographic data or issue-related keywords. But the people behind these new political networks believe standard networks catering to corporate advertisers lack the targeting capabilities necessary to attract political advertisers, many of which are still hesitant to spend on online advertising.
Resonate believes demographic data or behavioral data — typically based on interest in consumer products or services — doesn’t fully satisfy the needs of political advertisers aiming to persuade or mobilize supporters. “We’re trying to target higher quality individuals out of the gate rather than trying to do massive amounts of really cheap advertising where we’re hoping the algorithms of the general networks will get us to the right people,” said Hunn.
The Resonate network currently includes about 500 Web sites, but the company is shooting for 2,500. “We are out in the market actively recruiting those publishers that are important to us,” Hunn said. A current campaign running on the network related to the Employee Free Choice Act is performing well on travel guide site Frommers.com, demonstrating the focus on reaching targeted audiences through all sorts of content — not just political or news sites.
Another new network is also tailored specifically to the political and advocacy advertiser. Campaign Grid, from the Pennsylvania digital consulting firm of the same name, is banking on its ability to target congressional districts and previous political donors to give it a leg-up on standard ad networks.
“The most important differentiator is our use of the [Federal Election Commission] data. We can reach the people who write checks for political candidates and causes,” suggested Campaign Grid Chairman and co-founder Rich Masterson. The network offers placement on 500 sites on a CPM-basis, in addition to connecting advertisers to other network inventory.
“Political advertisers are not well served by publishers because the cyclical nature of this vertical market prevents publishers from investing time and effort,” added Masterson.
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