Microtargeting: Not Just for Online Ads

The New York Times featured an article today on the increasing number of campaigns that are tailoring their advertising messages to different demographics over the internet.  This tactic – frequently referred to as microtargeting – is not confined to online placements of campaign ads.  In a newly published study appearing in Political Communication, two Wesleyan Media Project co-directors find evidence that, at least at the presidential level, campaigns are targeting specific audiences through television ads as well.

“Though not news to many, we’ve found that Democrats and Republicans don’t watch the same television programs.  This gives campaigns a chance to target their messages to specific types of voters,” said Washington State University professor Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project and co-author of the study.  “The good news for Democratic campaigns is that Democrats watch more television than Republicans, which makes it easier for advertisers to reach Democratic voters.  The good news for Republicans is that the more Republican the audience, the more likely it is to turn out to vote.  So in reaching out to Republican voters, one is not ‘wasting’ ads on people who are unlikely to vote.”


“The targeting trends we uncovered from the 2008 campaign were distinct from 2004 and 2000,” notes Michael Franz, co-author, associate professor at Bowdoin College and co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.  “Whereas Gore, Kerry, and Bush seemed to target shows with audiences made up disproportionately of fellow partisans, both Obama and McCain targeted shows with viewers of the other party (in addition to more traditional mobilization of the base).  Noteworthy in all of this is that the analysis focuses only on shows on the major networks in all three years.  If one had the data on ad buys in local cable, the targeting would be even more prevalent.”

For more information and an abstract of the scholarly article, click here.