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Did Targeted Online Video Ads Sway the Election?

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Along with a tidal wave of television advertising, both presidential campaigns invested heavily in online video this time around -- and targeted online video at that. Strategy firms that included Democratic DSPolitical and Republican CampaignGrid used the latest marketing techniques to influence voters, such as acquiring individual preference data and matching it to voter rolls. Democrats and Republicans also took advantage of online demographic targeting options from Google and YouTube to serve political pre-roll ads to different groups.

This marks the first time that online video demographic targeting has been used in a presidential campaign, says Kelly Ford, vice president of marketing at SundaySky, but it's something that e-commerce companies have been doing for some time. The campaigns tailored their message based on known audience data.

In total, the Obama campaign spent $52 million on online video advertising and the Romney campaign spent $26 million, says Ford. She doesn't know what fraction of those budgets were spent in targeted video ads.

"From our experience, targeted pre-roll ads from a performance marketing perspective are more effective that any online video or online display advertising investment that a brand can make," says Ford. "For political campaigns, to put relevant video in front of the right person is what a candidate's campaign team wants more than anything else."

Both campaigns used online video for awareness marketing to drive their messages, said Ford. The ads were intended to build awareness and align the candidates with potential voters' beliefs.

"I'm sure that they feel they got their ROI on that," said Ford, on the Obama campaign's $52 million budget.

Last week, the Pew Internet and American Life Project issued a report on online political videos in the 2012 campaign, finding that 66 percent of online registered voters (55 percent of all registered voters) had watched politically-themed online videos during the campaign. News reports were the most popular, followed by speeches or press conferences, informational videos, and humor videos.

Social recommendations often led to videos being viewed, said the Pew report: 62 percent received recommended videos and 23 percent recommended them to other people. The report found that Democrats and Republicans were equally likely to have watched or recommended online videos. Liberal voters, however, were more likely to receive recommended videos on a social networking site.

While this was a big step forward for online video in politics, Ford thinks it's only the beginning.

"The level of relevance of these ads, what they did with those campaign, is just scratching the surface," says Ford. Next time around, look for highly personalized ads tailored to the exact viewer and his or her online behavior.

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