The future of politics (are you listening, Rand Paul?) could be addressable advertising

It seems like people have been discussing this idea of “what Big Data can really do” for years without tremendously tangible day-to-day results (possibly because of this and this). Still, it seems logical that as SmartPhones become the primary gadget of a new global generation, a world can exist where you can be strolling in the supermarket and your phone pings you: Aisle 6. Whole wheat bread. I feel like that could happen. In 1990, that seemed like some sci-fi stuff. Now, it feels like it’s maybe 4-5 years off, maybe 7-8 for the general public (but in four years, there’s gotta be a way to turn this stuff on for your phone if you read Wired enough, or something).

Politics and data have had an interesting relationship for decades, and a super interesting relationship for the past six years: notably, most people chock up the Obama ’08 win to better data management on the ground by the Democrats (social, micro-targeting, etc.) and that’s a trend line that still resonates today. Well, now we’ve got something interesting going on with the television: by 2016 (Presidential year!), some believe that 25-30 percent of set-top boxes in American homes will be set up for “addressable advertising.” What the eff is that? Here’s NPR to explain:

That’s a huge change, and I’ll tell you where it’s going. We’re moving to something called “addressable advertising,” and before long what we’re going to be able to do — we’re able to do it now in about 10% of homes — is that set-top box, instead of just giving that data about what is happening on that remote control of yours, we’ll be able to drop in different advertisements to that box. Let’s say you have Grey’s Anatomy on television and there’s a commercial break. In house No. 1 on your block, we’ve identified a persuadable women voter. In house No. 2, right next door, we’ve identified a woman who’s an unmarried woman who we know is with us but is unlikely to turn out because we have a real problem getting unmarried women out, but they’re ours by 35 points when we get ’em out. So that’s a get-out-the-vote target.

In house No. 3, we have a Republican voter that we really don’t want to spend money on or motivate. So into House 1, where that persuasion target lives, we can drop a persuasion ad, that will appear at exactly the same moment in the commercial break of Grey’s Anatomy as in House No. 2, the get-out-the-vote target is getting a different ad that’s motivating her to actually turn out, and in house No. 3, where the Republican voter lives, we don’t place an ad at all.

First off, the fact that this speaker used Grey’s as the reference point is a bit much, but let’s gloss that over. This is interesting. People are obsessed with television as “the medium” to reach people — see here and here. If television sets could give you tangible data that could be connected back to the viewers in those homes, this is obviously huge for multiple walks of life: politics being one, but simple marketing/advertising being another. Just like social semi-destroyed the idea of “the funnel,” so too could tangible, targeted advertising — ads varying by living room based on effectiveness of message, in other words — change marketing again (and politics). Why would you need 1,000 people hitting doors and lawns if you can get right into a family during their nightly together time? Now, a lot of this depends on how effective the message/storytelling is — that’s the part of “marketing/advertising/even politics” that people often forget about — but it’s still an interesting potential development.

This headline might say it all: “Data meets TV, and they get along.”

There’s a long way to go in terms of making this all effective enough that other aspects of these worlds start to shift, but you get the sense that it’s inching closer. By the 2020 Presidential election (six years), this could almost be normative.

Ted Bauer