Recently, a good friend who is a political reporter at a well-known ideological "hot spot" on the Web sent me Groupon Ad as an example of what we are in for this presumptively polarizing political pageant year in 2012. I am sure half the reading audience who saw the ad was charmed and warmed, while the other half was annoyed and turned-off. As for me, I was admittedly shocked; as blatant as Pam Anderson wearing a very short dress on the red carpet, this targeted ad was meant to really stimulate a portion of the reading public one way or another.
But then I wonder, "Is this hard-core pandering? Or just smart targeting?"
In our right vs. left society, marketers typically teeter a very careful line ideologically speaking to not appear one way or another. Like a delicate dance, brands tend to flap their flag whichever way the customer wind blows. Granted, some brands have already just gone out there and planted their flag by virtue of donations, speeches and support for one side or the other and proudly trumpet their feelings. However, if "The Blue Pages" (the ideological buying guide for retailers; found here) aren't enough to spur consumers to buy via cause marketing and consumer activism, then perhaps "ideological targeting" of ads are what we can expect?
Can't we all just get along?
Last fall I saw this hilarious beer sign the window of a gas station (pictured). Funny, to-the-point and well-targeted, this ad was right down the middle, neither choosing sides or even a diagonal. Straight down the middle, in-your-face, "oh yeah, we feel your pain" broad targeting that made even the most politically agnostic consumer likely say, "Yep, that's right. Maybe I do need a beer!" Welcome to the taboo boomerang effect; the often eschewed subject of politics has oozed back into our fabric like scarlet lipstick on a collar.
So it begs the question, does where we go on the Web somehow "brand us" by our ideological leanings? Should a marketer know that or care? Is that pandering or straight-up profiling?
Swing over here to Facebook and the clues to a dramatic political showdown are already evident; pro and anti-movements on just about every cause and player in the political spectrum are live with millions of followers and trolls. But the math says whether or not users are San Francisco Left or Deep South Right, they all need detergent and shoes, don't they? Does it matter to you as a marketer which side of the aisle their votes go? Does getting their allegiance as an ideologue make your product possibly more attractive?
While all media has its challenges in getting the attention of a distracted digital user, behavioral targeting has been a successful tool used by most brands to help be a "gentle reminder" out there in the digital space. But is using the "short leash" of click path and behavioral tracks of a user (which uncovers possible ideological ties as an identifier) off-limits as it relates to "true targeting?" Naturally, most political donations are a matter of public record whether you are a company or an individual, so if you really wanted to spare the time and go that deep and append that data, you can. But should that "identifier" be carried over to the ad content as further insurance to get the consumer to return?
There is already "lifestyle" targeted marketing to reach certain demographics. So is the Groupon ad merely an extension of that concept in the form of "ideological" targeted marketing? Will it work? Admittedly, I was curious and clicked the link in the ad and saw nothing terribly spectacular on the other end indicative of the content that got me to click (possibly a letdown), and I have no first-hand knowledge of how the ad performed either. (However, as a potentially geo-targeted effort THAT would be curious patterns to uncover, no doubt!)
Marketers have primarily been risk-averse to alienating any segment of the population. So this new, blatant strategy could potentially be a provocative departure…or merely desperation. As the political polarity divides the nation and lines are being drawn (seemingly deeper now than before), is this possibly marketing suicide? Is it ok to alienate potentially 50% of your potential audience by giving the proverbial middle finger to their choices of ideology?
Or, is this so smart and innovative to reach deep into the passions of the ideologue to prompt them to buy based upon emotion and allegiance? Are customers truly that black and white as it relates to red and blue? Most importantly, will red, white, and blue help you see green? The questions are endless.
We all know behavioral targeting is incredible intelligence that allows you to place key and critical messages to a consumer who has shown at least peripheral interest in a product or service you have. It is powerful and impactful data. Used well and skillfully, you can reach those uncommitted consumers at the right time and place to bring them back. Knowing more about that consumer only makes the connection even stronger.
Knowing their political affiliation makes it possibly dangerous too.
Coloring your customers red or blue and marketing to them in their respective groups is a big gamble. Should the messaging of your brand follow them all the way to the ballot box?
How will you vote?
Kathleen Stockham is the Director of Strategy & Analytics at Response Media, a digital agency specializing in relationship marketing and customer acquisition services. Kathleen developed her expertise in all facets of digital and relationship marketing through experiences at industry-leading companies such as AOL, Office Depot and Best Buy. She was considered one of the original pioneers of SEO/SEM best practices for major retailers in the brand space and helped lead the way for retailer benchmarking in the early days of online shopping. When not wrapped up in spreadsheet formulas and statistics, Kathleen can easily be located at any number of All-Star Cheerleading competitions with her daughter or enthusiastically rooting for her beloved Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.