Republicans Tout Voter Data Matched Ad Targeting on AOL

The Republican National Committee provided voter data to AOL recently for last-minute online ad targeting. An e-mail sent to GOP Senate campaigns from the National Republican Senatorial Committee this morning touted the data pass-along, telling them they could now target Republicans by location, voting habits, and other criteria.

AOL has pushed its voter data matching and targeting services this election cycle, as the company has ramped up its political ad services and sales operation.

“Wanted to let you know that over the weekend the RNC shared with AOL some voter data so now you can target Republicans by precinct, gender, age and voting habits (Hard-R to Soft-R) on the AOL network,” wrote Katie Harbath, the NRSC’s digital strategist, in an e-mail sent to Senate Republican campaigns this morning. The e-mail was obtained by ClickZ News. While AOL can already target using the criteria mentioned in the e-mail, the RNC data provides an additional layer of information to target against.

Political campaigns have used voter file data matching to target online ads since as early as 2004. For instance, the RNC in 2007 sent its nationwide voter registration database to a third party data company which matched the RNC’s database to the registration databases of AOL, MSN, and Yahoo. The committee used the matches to target display ads on behalf of Bobby Jindal’s 2007 campaign for governor of Louisiana. The RNC matched voting logs from Louisiana’s secretary of state against data collected through the ads. It estimated that 76 percent of the users who interacted with the RNC ads by providing their zip codes to find nearby polling places voted.

The use of publicly-available voter registration data to target online ads is not new, though it appears more campaigns are using it this election cycle than in the past. One digital consultant told ClickZ News a Republican election campaign client has been testing the data matched ad service for about a month. That campaign took the more standard route, providing AOL with publicly-available voter data and other information that was then matched against AOL’s user registration database to determine a list of ad targets. That database includes information gleaned from registrations with AOL properties such as Mapquest and AIM.

AOL’s push, along with other anecdotal information, suggest an increased interest in use of the tactic. “We have a lot of interest among our clients,” said the digital consultant, who asked to remain anonymous. “We’re doing it for one client and the jury’s still out.”

The RNC’s data match could help GOP candidates who have not done their own data matches – either because they don’t have large enough contact lists to make it worthwhile or because they can’t afford to do matches. Now, they can tap into the data the RNC provided to AOL to reach Republicans instead of having to do their own matches. Campaigns that invest in such matching services often work with big online media companies on an individual basis, using their own voter data and contact lists, rather than accessing matches enabled by large party organizations.

Still, with just over a week before the November 2 election, the RNC data match may have come too late in the cycle to be valuable for many campaigns in this election. Although campaigns may run Get Out The Vote ads that prod voters to go to the polls on November 2, the relationship may prove more beneficial in the long term.

When asked to comment on today’s e-mail to Senate Republicans, the RNC directed ClickZ News to the NRSC. The NRSC declined to comment for this story.

During a discussion last week about AOL’s focus on the political market during this midterm election season, Rena Shapiro, director, political and issue advocacy accounts at AOL said, “We’re building the business for 2011 and 2012.”

The anonymous digital consultant said, “AOL is aggressively targeting this space,” adding, “Of the big three [AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft], they’re the only ones that actually advertise that they do [voter data matched ad targeting].”

AOL marketing materials aimed at political advertisers promote the firm’s ability to target ads based on party affiliation, contributions to campaigns or causes, or search activity on AOL or third-party sites.

“Do you have a list of voters, past campaign contributors, petition signers, or other coalitions? Target those users online through a database match to the AOL user list,” states the AOL literature.

AOL charges a minimum of $25,000 per matching project, according to the digital consultant and confirmed by AOL. Yahoo and Microsoft have also allowed voter data matched ad targeting. The technique mimics a common practice of commercial advertisers that provide internal and third-party data to AOL, Yahoo, or Microsoft for matching and ad targeting across their properties and ad networks.

“We’re using real voter registration data to target them so we know for sure that we’re reaching, for example, independents in Florida,” said Shapiro. “We’re targeting them regardless of where they are in the network,” she added, referring to AOL’s large ad network.

AOL’s cost for the service is relatively low. Compared to its minimum of $25,000 per database match, Microsoft charges a minimum of $50,000 per match job, and Yahoo requires a minimum spend of $250,000, according to the anonymous source.

Voter data is made public by state election boards, and when media firms like AOL do their matches, advertiser clients are not told which people are targeted. “We don’t know who they are; we can reach user number 1587 and we know they’re independent [for example],” Shapiro said. AOL uses a third party firm to perform the matches, and no personally identifiable data is included in the matched data. The digital consultant ClickZ spoke with for this story also stressed that the data his firm provided to AOL did not include any personally-identifiable information.

AOL also works with third-party data firm Experian which provides voter registration data and other data which helps AOL target audience clusters such as Republicans who shop for luxury items.

Disclaimer: AOL is the sponsor of ClickZ’s Politics & Advocacy section.

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