WASHINGTON — DirecTV and Dish Network customers may notice something a little different this election season: Your television ads know who you are.
The satellite television providers have partnered with Democratic and Republican data shops to harness information about their 20 million customers and deliver television ads tailored to the viewer.
Likely to vote absentee? The ads will know. Undecided? They know that, too.
The technology, known as “addressable advertising,” is the latest front in a growing battle to reach voters.
Low-tech targeted advertising has long been an essential part of politics; that is, more or less, what direct mail to the home and door-to-door canvassing are. But the push in recent years among both Republicans and Democrats, particularly in the wake of the 2012 presidential campaign, has been toward harnessing data analytics to tap into increasingly sophisticated voter records databases and deliver customized online ads to would-be supporters.
Now that’s moving into, perhaps, the last part of American political life to be untouched by the data revolution: your TV.
“Audience-based decision making is the future of running a campaign,” said Zac Moffatt, digital director of the Romney 2012 campaign. “It has to be. Not embracing technology is embracing inefficiency.”
How it works
How do the ads work? The television providers will take over a customer’s digital video recorder, or DVR, when it’s not in use — likely in the middle of the night. The targeted ads are downloaded. When a cue is sent by an advertiser of the perfect moment to run, one of those ads are picked off the box and run on the television screen, appearing just like any ol’ television commercial. “The box will reach directly into its cache and play it off the hard drive and then go directly back into programming,” said Warren Schlichting, senior vice president of Dish media sales.
“It doesn’t matter what you’re watching,” explains Michael Palmer, president of i360, the conservative-learning firm that is part of the program. The ad waits until the television is being watched and inserts itself into an open ad slot.
That means that if a viewer records an episode of “Top Chef” and watches before the election, a political ad may appear. But when that same episode is rewatched the day after the election, the ad will have disappeared, Schlichting said.
DirecTV and Dish Network established a partnership, known as D2, this summer. On the Democratic side, in addition to the Washington-based TargetSmart, which was founded in 2006 by veterans of progressive politics, D2 has partnered with a local analytics shop called Clarity Campaign Labs, which operates the Democratic National Committee’s voter file.
On the Republican side, in addition to i360, an Alexandria, Virginia data warehouse firm that launched in 2009, D2 has close ties to Freedom Partners, which is connected to Charles and David Koch, the wealthy conservative funders and organizers.