The Role of First-Party Data in the Election

First-Party Data, political advertisers

The 2016 election was anything but ordinary, featuring two of the most unorthodox, polarized candidates who used data as the foundation for advertising campaign executions.

Voter engagement has completely changed since television viewership has fragmented, and if potential voters were watching live programming, chances are a second screen intercepted their attention throughout the duration of commercial breaks. Pew Research Center released a study confirming that 66% of voters prefer to consume political advertising online, drastically impacting conventional political advertisers’ marketing strategies.

Dating back to John F. Kennedy’s “Kennedy for Me” or Ronald Reagan’s more recent “It’s Morning in America Again” television campaigns, the voting American public has been long hypnotized by the powerful messaging from TV’s visual stimulation. Earlier this year, total political ad spend was projected to reach $11.7 billion, up from the $9.4 billion spent in the 2012 election. Television broadcasters capitalized from the quadrennial presidential election cycle, accounting for $5.9 billion of the forecasted ad spend.

However, since television no longer carries the same weight as it once did, the remaining $5.8 billion was divvied between online/digital, radio, newspapers, cable, telemarketing, out of home, direct mail and other print mediums. Why? Well, to put it simply, the messaging on television needs to be reinforced cross-screen in order to capture the modern voter’s attention.

The first execution of digital political advertising relied on basic voter demographic information and online behaviors from cookie targeting. Unfortunately for political marketers, cookies provide insufficient audience profiles, resulting in poor delivery to the wrong audience segment, and it’s commonplace for even the most novice computer user to reject cookie tracking through ad blockers or caching.

Most political advertising is still heavily reliant on owned voter profiles, but ideologies can change in four years. In 2016, presidential hopefuls leveraged first-party data, cross-referenced that information with public voter data, and then integrated this fine-tuned dataset into their databases. This first-party data accounted for both offline and online behaviors and provided insight into which devices voters used, allowing political advertisers to reach the right audience segment when and where it most the most impactful.

Targeting abilities, such as geo-targeting, radically augmented a campaign’s reach and relevancy, improving messaging alignment and scale. For example, the 2016 Iowa caucus demonstrated just how valuable targeted marketing can be, exemplified by Senator Ted Cruz’s conquest over Donald Trump for the state’s nomination. Cruz’s marketing team aggressively ran TrueView YouTube ads to a certain swath of voters based on their interests, social profiles and personalities, focusing on Iowan-specific issues.

First-party data in the 2016 election has effectively replaced TV’s reign as the primary communication conduit. Hillary Clinton implemented her iconic “#ImWithHer” social video strategy that energized a younger millennial generation while Donald Trump hashed out controversial posts on his social networks, but both strategies sought to reach real, eligible voters as opposed to hypothetical audience profiles.

In a competitive media environment, Facebook has proven to be an instrumental channel to reach voters. Within Facebook’s infrastructure, marketers can fully tag a site for remarketing and conversion tracking and expand audience segments with lookalike targeting. Since Facebook translates across smartphone and tablet devices, using first-party targeting on Facebook meant that candidates were finally able to reach cord cutters, millennials and source-agnostics that were previously unreachable in the 2012 election.