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Case Study: How The 2012 Obama Campaign Used Advanced Media Buying Strategies To Win The Election

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2012 USA ElectionsThe marketing analytics strategies we previously discussed are used at the highest levels of media – including the 2012 re-election campaign of Barack Obama.

Traditionally, media buying in Presidential elections has been about identifying specific demographic groups, targeting popular television programs to maximize reach, and firing away with a budget in the hundreds of millions.

In 2012, the Obama campaign turned this conventional approach on its head.

Let’s talk for a moment about the research and measuring company Nielsen, who has long been the giant among data purveyors used by media buyers for television. The problem? Their methods are based on sampling – hardly cutting edge – in many markets, they still rely on self-reporting to track viewer’s preferences, a notoriously inaccurate research method. Don’t take my word for it on Nielsen – read this.

Nielsen, however, is not the only player in town. Portland-based Rentrak directly tracks consumer’s TV-watching habits – sometimes right down to the second – by using data from their cable boxes.

Needless to say, this kind of data is extremely useful to media buyers – and it may have even helped decide the 2012 Presidential Election.

So just how did the Obama campaign do it?

Essentially, they took their massive database of 25 million target voters (identified as either swing voters or unreliable/inconsistent voters), and matched that database to Retrak’s viewing information.

In other words, rather than targeting demographics of people (by age, sex, ethnicity, etc.), they targeted the individuals themselves.

As you might imagine, this new data created an entirely different picture of how they should allocate their advertising. Rather than hitting Oprah-level mass markets – with lots of dollars wasted reaching the wrong individuals – they focused on smaller, cheaper advertising opportunities that they knew their exact targets were watching.

As an example, during one period when the Romney campaign was targeting eighteen mass-market channels, the Obama administration was targeting sixty niche channels that directly reached his target voters. The end result – besides a campaign victory, of course – was an estimated ten to twenty percent in advertising savings. With a budget of $300 million, that translates to a whopping thirty to sixty million dollars in savings.

While it isn’t every media buyer who gets a $300 million budget to play with, savings of 10-20% aren’t unheard of when advanced marketing analytics strategies are put into place.

I was so impressed by this story that I personally invited the Retrank CEO to speak at an American Marketing Association (AMA), Chicago chapter event in 2013. This tidbit had the audience in stitches: One of the TV programs chosen for advertising was a 2am Justin Bieber special!

Whether or not you are a fan of Mr. Obama, you have to admire the shrewd media buying strategy that helped him maximize his advertising dollars.

Food for Thought: Fresh Corn Salad by Ina Garten

A fresh spin on media buying can be good for your wallet. But this fresh spin on corn is perfect for a warm summer day.

I enjoy watching Ina Garten on The Food Network. She provides amazingly flavorful recipes that are fairly simple to make. A favorite of mine in the summer is fresh corn salad.

I have to work hard to keep my fork out of this dish once it’s made, or I’m liable to eat too much before it even gets to the table.

It’s designed to be made with fresh corn from the cob, but sometimes I simply use that 5-pound bag of white corn I have in the freezer from Costco, and it still does the trick!

To learn more, read Rentrak’s case study on the campaign, and this great article by The Washington Post.

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About the Author:

Bonnie Massa is Founder and President of Chicago-based Massa & Company, Inc. She works with companies and nonprofits to make the best use of their information about customers, partners, donors and sponsors. With more than 30 years of experience in marketing and predictive analytics, Bonnie is passionate about helping clients make informed, data-driven decisions to increase the value of their customer base. She works with organizations of all types to attract new customers and constituents, segment existing customers and analyze customer behavior to predict future behaviors. She speaks fluent “geek” and is an effective translator between business executives and technology experts. Bonnie currently serves as President of American Marketing Association Chicago Chapter, a volunteer position leading the best marketers in the city. She strongly believes that making pasta and ice cream from scratch are worth the effort, and she spends much of her free time testing and re-testing that theory.