Are you feeling stalked by the midterm elections? That’s maybe because of DSPolitical, a firm founded by former Democratic campaign operatives that gathers users’ web browser cookies to target political ads to the right audiences.
“Consumer and voters don’t know that they’re demanding this particular type of ad,” explained COO Chris Massicotte. “But they are — based on their history and their browser.”
DSPolitical — which stands for Demand-Side Platform — collects web browser cookies to constitute political profiles of potential audiences. At this point, said Massicotte, about 70 percent of the cookies have matching voter files. DSPolitical also bids for the political advertisements from groups like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or Planned Parenthood to reach likely sympathizers.
That’s not an invasion of privacy, said Massicotte, because DSPolitical never singles out individuals, but instead bulks them up into categories. Unlike in direct mailing campaigns — where ads are sent to people’s addresses — the company does not pull out any identifying information. “We anonymize the cookie,” he said, “so we don’t know who they are.”
The idea of targeting voters online occurred to DSPolitical partner and liberal online campaigning pioneer Michael Bassik during the 2004 elections. As a consultant to John Kerry’s campaign to unseat President George W. Bush, Bassik orchestrated a campaign of ads targeted to voters’ AOL accounts. “That started the wheels turning,” said Massicotte.
These methods might have seemed novel in the last decade. Now, they’re shaping up as an essential tool for political campaigns. “People are increasingly watching video on the Internet and consuming their news on the Internet,” said Massicotte. With that evolution, he added, “campaigns have become more personal.”
Based in Chinatown, DSPolitical runs on a staff of 15 employees and makes most of its revenue in the 10 weeks before an election. “We’re all former campaign professionals and we love the thrill of victory,” said Massicotte.
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