Campaign Grid is on the forefront of online targeting in the political advertising world. CEO Jeff Dittus sits down with Campaigns & Elections to discuss the impact of targeted advertising online, Campaign Grid and the future of the industry.

C&E: What is Campaign Grid’s focus?

Dittus: We’re a data-driven ad platform that allows political campaigns and advocacy groups to target registered voters with online advertising. Online advertising includes social media, mobile and video.

C&E: How do you think this technology will impact the industry?

Dittus: I think it is a sea change when interactive media allows you to target voters that can vote for you. There is no waste in the advertising and the platform allows campaigns and advocacy groups to figure out exactly how they want to reach voters, what segment of the voting population they want to reach and then quickly reach out to them through multimedia. We use static ads, interactive ads and social media ads and measure the results and the return on investment of the ad. This is all much different from television [advertising]. 

C&E: Does this, in your view, invalidate some of older methods of political advertising or is it cheap enough to compliment other methods like direct mail, television and radio?

Dittus: I think it compliments them, for sure. But I also think that there is a segment of the population today that only gets political news online. The only way to reach them is via the web or mobile. I love to use the example of the highly educated college graduate who is 26-years-old, rents their apartment, and they don’t have cable TV. They watch television online, they don’t have a land line so you can’t reach them with broadcast TV, you can’t call them traditionally because they only have a cell phone – no robo-calls – and you can’t direct mail them because they are renters.

C&E: What are the types of advertising video you use in the video network ads?

Dittus: There are two categories, pre-roll and in-stream. Basically the [political advertisement] plays either before a video clip or in the middle of a vide clip. That could be a news clip or a TV show broadcast online. What is interesting there is that [we have an] almost 100 percent rate of views for the advertisement based on what is running on our network so far. And there is almost 80 percent completion rate. There is no way to back out of the advertisement without canceling what you are watching, so 100 percent [of viewers] are seeing [the ad] and 80 percent are finishing it. Those kinds of ads can run on about 1500 sites which are brand safe [e.g. the website’s content is approved] for advocacy and political groups.

C&E: What can you tell me about Campaign Grid’s experience with the Chris Christie gubernatorial campaign in New Jersey?

Dittus: A lot! It was our first big statewide campaign. Before that we had done twelve congressional races and won eleven of them in the 2008 cycle. I believe, and we have the data to prove it, that our new media efforts were instrumental in his [Gov. Christie] getting elected.

His campaign was the first time we used “cookie targeting” for his get-out-the-vote effort – “cookie targeting” being re-targeting [of unique visitors]. Over the course of the campaign we had 120,000 unique New Jersey residents visiting [Gov. Christie’s campaign] site and our technology allows us to build a list of those folks. During the last week of the campaign, we advertised to that group to make sure they went out and voted. The governor won by 100,000 votes. The other thing that was unique in our methods is that our data and the way people click on ads is a real-time pull.

There are two great examples of how we used the feedback mechanism to make smart decisions for the campaign. In August, 2009, the governor was ahead by 12 or 15 points. The discussion in the campaign at that time was about the economy. But at a certain point the [former Gov. Jon] Corzine campaign thought the only way to win the election was to get the women’s vote, so they came out with the story that Christie was against mammogram testing. He [Corzine] believed that [Christie’s] positions on health care were substandard and that [in two health care proposals] neither of them included mammogram testing. They twisted that to say he [Christie] was against it, when in fact his mother had breast cancer and a mammogram saved her life.

The Corzine camp held a press conference about it and the day after a press conference, the number one search term in our site was “Christie” and “mammogram.” We called the campaign and said that New Jersey women want to clarify the governor’s position on mammogram testing. We made a web video [with Christie] sitting with his wife saying that this charge is ridiculous. We then ran that web banner ad to only women in NJ. We ran that ad for 2 weeks and after two weeks we put that video on television. There was a dip in the polls, but ultimately he won. We spoke to women about the issue and refuted the attack. That was a milestone in the campaign for sure.

The second [example of how we use new media to target specific voters] is how we can uniquely test a message. We ran eight issues messages in that campaign and when you compare exit polls to how people identified with our issue messages, they were statistically identical. We ran ads on taxes, jobs, health care and corruption. 7000 users clicked on those four ads in that order, and the way they clicked in proportion was on a percentage basis identical to exit polls that asked [voters] which issues were important and why they voted for the governor. That was the first time we had seen that correlation. The [Christie] campaign absolutely used that data to figure out what messages to use to drive voters in the last two weeks. That tactic has become a staple of all campaigns and it is a great way to supplement the traditional telephone poll in between the time you take polls.

C&E: Tell us about Campaign Grid’s blog, “SmartBrief.” 

Dittus: We just ran a post today about the RNC listening platform.  [The listening platform] looks into the world of social media, Twitter and Facebook posts – basically anywhere where a candidate’s name is mentioned in the blogosphere. We are able to crowd source what people are saying and create an ad campaign based on real-time feedback. That is the future. You are gathering information about what people are saying online and that advertising is targeted back at voters to persuade them or get money from them – basically to mobilize them. I think you will see a lot about that in the near term.

Jeff Dittus is the CEO of CampaignGrid, LLC. He has served as CEO of two public companies in the US (NASDAQ) and Australasia. As a fund raiser and investment banker, Mr. Dittus has raised more than $1 billion for his companies. Jeff's has been a leader in the evolution of new media and direct marketing. While at National Media, he helped build the world’s largest direct television marketing firm into a global operation in 70 countries. By founding IT Capital, Jeff established New Zealand's first venture capital company and helped start 8 new media businesses. At MediaBay, he turned a failing mail order club with 2.5 million customers into a leading edge online platform selling audio-books and classic radio shows via digital download and satellite radio broadcasts. As a founder of CampaignGrid and World Benefactor, Jeff has managed the online advertising and fund raising campaigns for more than 60 non-profits and political campaigns, and he is pleased to bring a lifetime of commercial experience to candidates and causes worldwide. Jeff is a graduate of the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in finance.

Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at nrothman@campaignsandelections.com