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Campaigns Digging Deeper for Your Personal Data

“Strategists affiliated with the Obama and Romney campaigns say they have access to information about the personal lives of voters at a scale never before imagined.”

Is that the most encouraging sentence you’ve read so far this week? Didn’t think so.

The concept of political campaigns (and other advertisers) using information that we didn’t even realize they had to better pigeonhole helpless consumers is nothing new, but the practice certainly seems to have grown more…epic in scale.

In the latest and most interesting application of the practice known as “micro-targeting”, the dueling Presidential campaigns aim to convince what they call “low-propensity voters” to actually, you know, get out and vote through data analysis and social media outreach. In a perfect world they wouldn’t need to do this, but our world is far from perfect: millions of Americans don’t plan to vote at all for some reason.

The most interesting aspect of this data-heavy PR project is the way in which the campaigns seek to exert influence over voter behavior: by using shame as a motivator.

They’ve learned from the big dogs at credit card companies and retail chains that use subtle psychological cues to convince customers to give them money without directly pushing them (because nobody likes a nag). And they put a lot of research into it, too.

Both campaigns claim to value citizens’ privacy above all else, but they did buy “demographic data from companies that study details like voters’ shopping histories, gambling tendencies, interest in get-rich-quick schemes, dating preferences and financial problems”. They also “planted software known as cookies on voters’ computers to see if they frequent evangelical or erotic Web sites for clues to their moral perspectives” so they could better tailor the personalized messages they send to supporters and web surfers who happen to visit their campaign sites.

Here’s how the subtle shaming works: Campaigns ask supporters to provide access to their friend lists, and the data-center computers then connect these volunteers to “low-propensity” voters through social media connections. Finally, the software will suggest that volunteers contact certain friends, family members or co-workers in order to encourage them to vote.

Here’s the catch: The campaigns work from call lists compiled by data correlation programs with “access to details like whether voters may have visited pornography Web sites, have homes in foreclosure, are more prone to drink Michelob Ultra than Corona or have gay friends or enjoy expensive vacations.”

OK then. The campaigns say they “do not buy data they consider intrusive”, but we wonder how they define that word. How is reviewing an “anonymous” voter’s porn viewing history not an intrusive act?

What do we think? Will “vote shaming” work? (It’s always worked for the charity industry, hasn’t it?)

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