When sophisticated political and advocacy campaigns advertise online, they often target based on party affiliation layered with geographic or other demographic data. Resonate Networks launched in May, promising to go beyond the standard approaches by coupling proprietary panel-based research with other data sources to surface highly-concentrated online audiences that hold particular beliefs about issues like energy, healthcare, and taxes.
The Alexandria, VA, based firm is funded by investors including former Clinton White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes and political data pioneers Sara Taylor and John Brady. It’s ramping up its staff with Internet advertising veterans such as former Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive exec Deborah Correa, who was hired a month ago as Resonate’s VP advertising operations. The company expects to grow from its current 15 employees to 25 by the end of the year.
I spoke with COO Andy Hunn last week about the challenges and surprises of the company’s early days, and what we can expect as the 2010 elections approach.
Q: What sort of reception have you received from the political and advocacy market since launch?
For the public affairs and political markets we focused on at launch, we’ve run north of 30 campaigns at this point…and we’re often running campaigns in a 2 to 4 week cycle…. The deal sizes are quite large. I think they’re running on average around $125,000. The vast majority of our activity is on the advocacy and issue advocacy side. We have done some political work already for folks testing the waters for next year’s elections.
Q: What percentage of your advertisers would you say are corporate?
Very small. We haven’t really focused on that market…. We’ve run corporate campaigns already for a pharma client, and we’re running our second and third campaigns for that client now. In addition to the data we already have, we’re doing a whole separate wave of research right now on the corporate responsibility side…to use that data to power values-based marketing around product campaigns.
Q: What issues are of most interest to your advertisers lately?
[Issues like] energy and cap and trade are big right now…for corporate advertisers who want to burnish their eco-cred…. There’s a lot of activity around high fat content, high sugar content foods, and anti-obesity legislation that relates to that, to help those corporate guys get out the message that in addition to French fries, they also sell carrot sticks and apple sauce.
We’re seeing a lot of interest on the healthcare reform side…. In the last wave of research we did, we collected information on various options in the healthcare reform debate [such as the public option as distinct from a corporate mandate]. In the case of looking at the data on the public option and the public option alongside a private plan [as broken down by party ideology], there’s a significant difference in the support and opposition numbers.
There’s a belief that [people will fall along party lines when it comes to certain issues]. But when you actually look at the data, there are statistical meaningful differences…. If all you were doing is targeting on party affiliation…you’re going to be missing a lot of people who already agree with you…. Our targeting allows us to bypass that need to target conservative Republicans, for instance, and understand where we can find the highest concentrations of people who oppose [healthcare reform]…. The guy who’s not a conservative Republican who opposes this issue is equally important to [the advertiser]…. It’s an opportunity to broaden the base of the organization.
Q: You mentioned the 2010 elections. Looking ahead, is there momentum when it comes to campaigns buying on the network, or are there still challenges to get buy-in?
What we’re doing right now on the partisan campaign side is a lot of education and awareness building to the campaigns about the capabilities that are available to them…. We’re trying to help them understand from a strategy perspective how they can layer together message campaigns…. We also want to make sure they don’t forget about this persuadables group that we can target…. We’re telling them they have a year to hit this persuadables group to really build a year to a year-and-a-half strategy of how they put those online ad dollars to work.
They’re starting to understand…. Both of the dominant parties clearly get the continuing nature of that need to build up expertise in online.
Q: It seems to me that you’re selling advertisers a persuasion-focused offering, or almost a branding type offering, rather than a more direct-response oriented one. Yet — although we’ve seen some political advertisers begin to use online advertising for persuasion — most still think of it as a direct-response means of driving e-mail signups and fundraising. So, it would surprise me if there were to be a really big shift by political advertisers toward persuasion-aimed campaigns right away.
They most certainly have been driven towards a call-to-action, and therefore people who are already supporters…and less on really persuading somebody who may not be familiar with the issue or the candidate. It’s a very fair point.
What’s been surprising to us is when you look at people who are influential in the political space, they’re very different from those influential in the advocacy space…. We expected you’d see 80 to 90 percent overlap but what we see is a much smaller overlap — closer to 20 to 35 to 40 percent overlap in both models.
Q: There’s been increased pressure on the online advertising industry when it comes to privacy issues, specifically in regards to behavioral targeting. What’s the sense you get from political advertisers you talk to regarding the regulatory landscape, especially considering that some Congressional campaigns could benefit from this sort of advertising?
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