Digital strategist Jim Walsh, whose firm DSPolitical specializes in cookie targeting, spent the week leading up to the recent U.K. elections organizing a last-minute digital push for Ed Miliband’s Labour Party.

Walsh’s firm had been contracted by the party three months before the election and had been rotating staff through London before the May 7 vote. He said the experience challenged some assumptions about targeting digital ads in the U.S.   

“Typically, we sell only non-skippable, user-initiated pre-roll,” Walsh said. “That’s because the completion rates tend to be much, much higher.”

After some pre-election testing, said Walsh, “we found in the U.K. that skippable pre-roll was having just as high of a completion rate as unstoppable inventory — which is just incredible.”

The United Kingdom is a much different media environment than America. Newspapers continue to wield influence and shape opinions with the headlines that greet morning commuters. TV and radio advertising by campaigns is illegal. “The electorate has never been exposed in large volume to political-based messaging,” said Walsh. “They were highly engaged. We saw click-through rates four-five times what they are in the U.S. — even on banner ads.”

Moreover, those higher completion rates were achieved in a media environment where privacy laws are much tougher. “We were worried,” explained Walsh, “that because of the privacy laws we wouldn’t be able to do cookie targeting, or we’d only be able to get the silver version of it rather than the gold standard that we use in the United States.”

In fact, it’s not that cookies are illegal in the U.K., it’s just not possible to cookie someone without their consent, according to Walsh.  

“As long as you’re working through a national party, it’s very easy to get a hold of a valid voter file,” said Walsh. “From a political data standpoint, that was great for matching to a cookie pool.”

The election was a wash for Labour as Prime Minister David Cameron captured a slim majority after his
Conservative Party picked up 28 seats.  Miliband stepped down in the wake of the result.

While the contracts in the U.K. aren’t as lucrative as on American campaigns, Walsh said DSPolitical gained from the experience, in part, because of what the firm observed with voters’ online behavior.  

“Skippable is something we’ve eliminated from our inventory because typically we haven’t been able to get
completion rates that high,” he said. “But perhaps there’s a way video completion rates can be that high if we have slightly lower frequency but more creative actually running.

“The interest is there per creative rather than per campaign.”

Jim Messina, President Obama’s former campaign manager, helped David Cameron capture his majority in the recent vote. Messina’s takeaway: the campaign reinforced his view that social media channels are the best way to influence voters.

“Lessons of using social media still hold for the younger generation of voters, who spend the majority of their time on the Internet (when they’re not watching DVR’ed TV shows and avoiding advertising altogether),” he wrote in Politico. “Among that generation, trust in for-profit media is way down. For 2016, that means not only an emphasis on social media but an emphasis on enlisting known friends and trusted influencers to share the campaign’s message–restoring some believability to political messaging for low-information voters.”