Patrick Skarr, Account Supervisor

POLITICO recently reported that online political advertising has reached a new zenith, inventory for video ads in swing states was sold-out. Astronomical sums will be spent for the 15-second video before you can watch the latest cover of “Call Me Maybe,” on YouTube.

There is a steady appetite for these advertisements – primarily because they are effective and provide a wealth of information back to the campaigns paying for them. (You don’t hear back from a postcard.)

However, the fine folks at the Annberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania recently published a study indicating American’s overwhelming displeasure of tailored political advertising.

Their findings indicate a high degree of risk for candidates and campaigns that utilize this practice and since just about everyone is using these tools, the completed study is truly groundbreaking work. Two key findings from the study, which you can access at https:/// are:

  • 64 percent of American’s say that their likelihood of voting for a candidate would decrease if they learn that a candidate’s campaign purchases information about them online, and then tailors political ads that they think will appeal to them.
  • 86 percent of Americans do not want political ads tailored to them. A figure that is considerably higher than rejection rate for tailored advertisements for services, news and discounts.

 The authors provided us a window into the thought process of Americans. The overwhelming conclusion from the data is that methods matter. No one would take a full-page ad out in the local newspaper proclaiming the endorsement of Jane Doe without her prior approval. Why would a campaign think this is acceptable behavior within social media platforms?

While not explored in the study, it’s worth mentioning the often cited, discussed and debated topic of the true nature of independent voters. The Myth of the Independent Voter and the never ending crunching of exit poll data reinforces that Americans do not want to be labeled as partisans.

Gallup reports that there are more independents than Republicans or Democrats. Americans, even if they lean towards one ideology or another, are fiercely loyal to their perceived independence from political parties.

Breaking this sacrosanct bond with narrowly tailored advertising, especially overtly obvious practices, runs the risk of alienating the very people we are seeking to persuade to our cause or candidate.

Kevin Spacey calmly delivers one of the most memorable lines from the film The Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.“

Our challenge is to remind our target demographic that our candidate agrees, or opponent disagrees, with their values without divulging that we know what positions they hold.

While we have the means, medium and abilities to micro-tailor specific messages, for now voters perceive and articulate a difference between learning more about candidates and causes than getting a deal on a spa package.

Time will tell if attitudes soften, but for now campaigns need to be cognizant of these findings and adjust their strategies accordingly. Those who master the art of subtlety will have cause to celebrate when the final votes are tallied.