Can Smartphones Swing The Primaries?

The honour of the “first mobile election” may already have been bestowed on votes past, but 2016’s presidential race is shaping up to be the real deal.

Around the country, digital consultants are now threading mobile-first strategies into candidates’ campaigns. Bernie Sanders has been successfully deploying SnapChat,  Ben Carson bought “complete domination of mobile” in Iowa, and ad buyers are flocking to gobble up mobile display inventory in a year when $1.1B of an expected total of $11.4B election season ad spending will go to digital, according to Borrell Associates.

Of course, using mobile marketing to reach constituents is not new. These days, buying mobile inventory is an accepted component of any ad campaign. But what could move the needle this Super Tuesday is the new ability of mobile to super-target candidate messages.

For campaign teams that are increasingly scientific about reaching voters, mobile microtargeting will be the game-changer. It is often said that “all politics is local.” But grassroots activists still go door to door and TV campaigns are typically bought at the state or national level.

This kind of blanket buying risks wasted spend, inefficiency and, ultimately, failure.

Modern campaign strategists now understand which specific counties, neighborhoods and even blocks can elect their champion - and mobile targeting, thanks to specific GPS location reporting combined with other data layers like ethnographic and census profiles, helps them to target with one-to-one precision.

Take Hispanic and African-American voters, for example, who use mobile as their main source of information on politics. Or consider millennials --  the largest segment of voters in this year’s race -- who are savvy digital consumers with infinitely less interest in mass media.

There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that mobile will be the crucial tactic for reaching this election’s critical voter demographics.

Mobile ads can now get even more granular than audience age or ethnicity. By focusing on precinct-level data for voting history or household income, candidates can now laser-target swing voters or their core constituencies with relevant messages to turn out and vote.

Geo-targeted mobile ads first emerged in the last election cycle.

In 2011, Michele Bachmann bought mobile display ads within a two-mile radius of the Minnesota State Fair, warning fair-goers her opponent “voted to raise taxes on your corn dog.” Sanders last month bought a nine-day SnapChat geo-filter campaign targeting Iowans.

It’s the sort of thing you can only do with local data pivoted on location using mobile signals, and the receive the kind of insights TV buyers would not discover without panel-testing viewers long after the fact.

We have seen recent data where completion rates in a Republican mobile ad campaign correlated positively with household income levels, specifically in neighborhoods with a high concentration of Republican voters.

In another campaign, mobile video ads performed better in precincts with less clearly defined partisan households, with undecided voters proving keener to learn more about unfamiliar candidates’ policies.

Not all of these outcomes could have been predicted or planned for in advance. But, once candidates see emerging trends, they can shift their focus to reach the undecided voter on their smartphones.

Nearly two-thirds of those who watch a political video ad on mobile said they took action on it, while independent voters are more likely to be found on mobile than on TV, according to Project Rubicon research.

Despite having heard a lot about mobile marketing and elections in recent years, this is the year when mobile campaigns will truly harness the unique characteristics of mobile devices to unlock the potential of local data.

So don’t be surprised when you see banners attempting to change your mind on your way to the polls.

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