How Data and Micro-Targeting Won the 2012 Election for Obama

If Obama’s Presidential campaign in 2008 was defined by social media, then surely his successful 2012 re-election bid should be attributed to their use of data and micro-targeting.

Election night seemed to confound many of the pundits. Governor Romney appeared to put together a strong campaign with the polls leading into the final week suggesting a tight race. Romney won 60% of White voters. He in fact even won the independents vote. Yet he lost the key battleground States of Ohio, Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada … handing the sitting President a second term.

How did Obama win?

First, he delivered a well-orchestrated campaign of largely negative advertising targeting Romney, which served the purpose of suppressing voter turnout by traditionally Republican supporters.

Second, he mobilized key voter blocks to register early and vote. 18-24 year olds; African Americans; Latinos and single women in the key swing States. Voter turnout for these four key demographics was about 70% thereby giving him the numbers he needed to push him over the edge.

At the heart of these two strategies, was micro-targeting.

Micro-targeting is the ability to dissect in this case, the voter population in to narrow segments and customize messaging to them, both in on-the-ground activities and in the media.

Micro-targeting isn’t a new idea in politics or marketing for that matter. Karl Rove expertly exploited this in the successful Bush campaign in 2000 and 2004. But it was the sophistication and the scale of how they executed this strategy that in the end, proved the knock-out punch for the Democrats.

The Obama camp in preparing for this election, established a huge Analytics group that comprised of behavioral scientists, data technologists and mathematicians. They worked tirelessly to gather and interpret data to inform every part of the campaign. They built up a voter file that included voter history, demographic profiles, but also collected numerous other data points around interests … for example, did they give to charitable organizations or which magazines did they read to help them better understand who they were and better identify the group of‘persuadables‘ to target.

That data was able to be drilled down to zip codes, individual households and in many cases individuals within those households.

However it is how they deployed this data in activating their campaign that translated the insight they garnered into killer tactics for the Obama campaign.

Volunteers canvassing door to door or calling constituents were able to access these profiles via an app accessed on an iPad, iPhone or Android mobile device to provide an instant transcript to help them steer their conversations. They were also able to input new data from their conversation back into the database real time.

The profiles informed their direct and email fundraising efforts. They used issues such Obama’s support for gay marriage or Romney’s missteps in his portrayal of women to directly target more liberal and professional women on their database, with messages that “Obama is for women,” using that opportunity to solicit contributions to his campaign.

Micro-targeting helped them to steer their broadcast buying approach. While both campaigns followed conventional wisdom to buy spots in Local Broadcast news programming, Obama’s team differentiated their schedule by adding networks like TV Land whose viewers they determined “were less political” and therefore more likely to be a persuadable.

Even the selection of celebrity fundraisers were informed by the data. The team identified women 40-49 as the highest contributors to their campaign. Obama’s analytics team in crunching the numbers uncovered that Sara Jessica Parker of Sex in the City fame popped as the most appealing celebrity to this demographic and called her up to ask if she would host a fundraiser dinner for Obama in New York. Web ads and emails from Michelle Obama were sent targeting this group asking them to “chip in whatever they can” with a chance to win an invitation, hotel and flights to New York to attend the event.

As mentioned earlier, encouraging early voting and a higher turnout of key target groups was critical in winning the swing states. They used classic micro-targeting online advertising to reach those groups. Obama’s team’s use of Facebook this time was also very clever, tapping into Facebook’s individual profile data. A million users downloaded the Obama 2012 app on Facebook. The app was able to identify their Facebook friends that fit favorable profiles located in key swing states, encouraging them to contact these friends to remind them to vote. Sources say one in five of those contacted this way were influenced positively by this contact.

Marketers need to take heed of how the Obama campaign transformed their marketing approach centered around data. They demonstrated incredible discipline to capture data across multiple sources and then to inform every element of the marketing – direct to consumer, on the ground efforts, unpaid and paid media. Their ability to dissect potential prospects into narrow segments or even at an individual level and develop specific relevant messaging created highly persuasive communications. And finally their approach to tap their committed fans was hugely powerful. The Obama campaign provides a compelling case for companies to build their marketing expertise around big data and micro-targeting. How ready is your organization to do the same?



iPad-vertising – sight, sound, motion and touch

By Antony Young.  Appeared in Campaign Asia’s January 2011 issue.

Chris Anderson, editor of Wired said to me at a visit to our agency, “Impact and engagement is the business we’re in … paper, we’ll see.” He was discussing publishing his magazine content on the tablet, but he may as well have been talking about the advertising within it.  The iPad is a marvelous device for consuming media.  They also present rich advertising opportunities for brands.  “iPadverts” offer the visual presence and imagery we enjoy from print advertising, with the interactivity and depth of content that the internet provides.  It offers sight, sound, motion and touch.  The web seems just so 2005.  While early days, agencies are working with publishers to design the best ways to exploit these qualities.

I really liked how Chanel promoted its J12 Marine watch collection with their sponsorship of the editorial choice app of the New York Times.   Users could interact with motion banners on the front page, adjacent ads alongside editorial and choose to view a stunning video of the watch and various marine themed underwater visuals, eventually sending you to a store locator page.   [I encourage you to view this on] In my opinion, it provides a far more influential brand impact than any print, web and even TV ad could deliver.

Lexus through Conde Nast recreated an entire brochure accessed through a page ad placement, providing a virtual interactive tour of the car.  This gives a peek into the potential of the depth and interactivity of content with the portability an iPad brings.

The Plaza Central Park South Hotel in New York city is using iPad’s inventively by making them available in their rooms and suites complete with a virtual concierge app.  Guests can use the in-room iPads to order room service, make restaurant reservations, request wake-up calls, read New York City destination guides, order room service, make a spa appointment, and even check airline schedules and print boarding passes.   Each of The Plaza’s iPads also come loaded with multiple newspapers and magazines.  I imagine a good number of these along with their plush hotel bathrobes will find themselves smuggled out of their hotel rooms!

Finally, one of our clients, L’Oréal did a nice insert in Glamour magazine recently with an ad that helped us to launch their new Garnier Fructis Blow Dry Perfector product.  The iPad provides a perfect platform for new products which require product demonstration scenarios.  In this case, the ad featured a Before and After picture gallery for different hair styles and a demo of how to use the product as part of the ad itself.