This article is the first of four parts of a larger article I wrote for the Campaigns & Elections special edition on the CampaignTech conference, which is shipping with the current issue of the magazine. This piece also appeared in the C&E blog.
If C&E's CampaignTech conference is any indication, online politicos are going to fight on two different kinds of ground in 2012, and they’d better be ready for both. We might think of them as the air war and the ground war, but those words also apply to television advertising and grassroots organizing. A better metaphor might be retail vs. wholesale—one-on-one vs. mass communications.
Online advertising shows the distinction clearly. The majority of today’s political digital ads are intended to recruit supporters, donors and volunteers for particular campaigns or interest groups. Using interest, demographic and geographic matches, advertisers can target Google, Facebook and display (banner) ads with ruthless precision.
It’s even now relatively common practice to zero-in on individual people (if anonymously) by matching a campaign’s voter file with the “cookies” placed on consumers’ computers by commercial advertisers. Retail politics, indeed! At the same time, digital campaigners can run ads with the entirely different goal of influencing the broad public conversation. These ads may not be geo-targeted in the same sense as the recruiting ads mentioned above; instead they try to reach influential voices like reporters, bloggers and political activists.