Democrats to Kick Off Digital Voter Targeting Effort at Summer Meeting

Voter File 2.0 Developed With Experian and TargetSmart to Streamline Voter Targeting

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Hillary Clinton arrives to speak during the annual Democratic Wing Ding in Clear Lake, Iowa, U.S., on Aug. 14, 2015.
Hillary Clinton arrives to speak during the annual Democratic Wing Ding in Clear Lake, Iowa, U.S., on Aug. 14, 2015. Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and other Democratic presidential hopefuls are planning to convene with party members and campaign insiders this week in Minneapolis for the Democratic National Committee's summer meeting, where the DNC aims to educate voter data managers on what it's calling Voter File 2.0.

The project is designed to make it easier for campaigns to target select lists of voters with ads on Facebook and around the web -- reaching the same people they email, call and contact door-to-door -- and then gauge return on fundraising and get-out-the vote efforts. At the DNC's behest, data services firm Experian and political data company TargetSmart Communications have spent the past several months turning the Democratic Party's voter file into data that can be used readily to aim video ads, addressable TV spots and mobile and desktop display ads at specific voters. The result will be introduced Wednesday to the party faithful.

"What's driving a lot of this is the advertising technology evolving to the point where it's addressable," said Andrew Brown, chief technology officer at the DNC. Campaigns have previously done such custom list targeting on a one-off basis, but the work often involves a level of expertise out of reach for smaller operations with smaller budgets. Campaigns have also had to hammer out deals with ad networks and others on their own.

"Basically Experian is able to negotiate those matching contracts with every online contractor," he said. "That takes those ad hoc arrangements out of the equation. That's why they're critical to this effort."

Mr. Brown said two campaigns are testing the new offering, but he declined to identify them.

The data matching has been streamlined for ads on Facebook, Yahoo, MSN, AOL, addressable TV platforms including DirecTV and Dish Network and via digital ad exchanges through RocketFuel and BlueKai.

DNC pushes for standardization
Like other recent data and technology efforts spearheaded by the DNC, Voter File 2.0 reflects the party's broader strategy of steering Democratic campaigns toward a preferred set of tools and vendors.

The approach stands in contrast to that of the GOP, which historically has fostered a more competitive environment among multiple tech vendors. On the Republican side, firms including i360, the data company funded by the Koch Brothers, and Targeted Victory enable clients to send digital ads to specific voters using voter file data. The RNC declined to comment for this story.

The GOP was dogged earlier this year by in-fighting over data control between i360 and the Republican National Committee-affiliated Data Trust, though the two appear to have mended fences and re-upped their data sharing agreement since. And, while the new DNC effort could further burnish the Democrats' data reputation, it also signals potential problems for vendors not christened as preferred DNC partners.

"DNC's Voter File 2.0 offers access to a much broader network of publishers than has been possible before," Mr. Brown said. "Further, it is based on a direct person level match to publishers' subscriber lists, rather than depending on cookies. For that reason we expect progressive vendors and consultants to take advantage of this to offer their clients a better service," he said."

Bridging the digital disconnect
There's been a "disconnect" on the digital side when it comes to building and measuring truly cross-channel campaigns, suggested Matt Taverna, director of sales and business development at TargetSmart. "We saw the need last cycle," he said. "It's always been a little bit disjointed with how our data was being used in the digital space."

Experian's broad relationships with the companies that control digital ad inventory simplified work that would have required his firm and Democratic organizations to foster several separate relationships, Mr. Taverna added.

Most of the matching by Experian involves linking user IDs, names or email addresses it has associated with media company audiences to TargetSmart's voter data.

While Experian does have relationships with clients on the right, said Lindsey Harju, product lead for Political Programming at Experian Marketing Services, "None of them really matches exactly what we're doing with the DNC."

The actual matching process could take at least a couple days, if not more, depending on which media partners are involved, according to Ms. Harju. But political clients require far quicker turnarounds than most of Experian's commercial clients. "Timing is probably five times as important for these campaigns than it is for anyone of the advertisers that we work with," she said.

The extra pressure from political clients could help Experian ramp up its speed for all clients, she suggested.

Clients will pay a premium to buy ads targeted using the partners' data, and the DNC will receive a portion of that to distribute to Experian to cover costs of matching services, to TargetSmart for voter related file management, and to media firms involved in the buy.

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