How are Democrats affected by 2022’s digital ad privacy changes?

The bottom line: With massive changes in digital ad mechanics afoot, Democrats need to research digital targeting techniques that will be effective in 2022 and beyond.

$250 billion. That’s how much Meta (Facebook)’s stock dropped when they announced their Q4 2021 earnings thanks to Apple’s App Tracking Transparency initiative. 

App Tracking Transparency prevents digital ad providers from tracking users individually without consent. In February 2022, Google followed Apple’s lead, announcing a suite of proposals to wind down Android’s tracking system by 2024, pairing with existing plans to deprecate cross-site tracking in Chrome in mid-2023.

While these programs are privacy wins, they flip the table on how digital ads work behind-the-scenes – hobbling classic techniques that had helped many small campaigns reach new voters. Campaigns have relied heavily on targeting specific lists of likely supporters in their digital campaigns, allocating vast attention and money to these small groups. In the world of perfect tracking, this made some sense – in the new world, while this tactic will not go away overnight, its effectiveness will steadily decline.

Status quo tactics are less effective at reaching the younger and more diverse voters needed for Democrats to win. We need to make quick changes for 2022 and invest in expensive, complex, but necessary research for this year and cycles beyond.

What does this mean for campaigns in 2022?

  • Advertise on Facebook – still. It’s where many voters are. TFC’s randomized experiments in 2021 indicate it is still effective at turning out voters. Expect the platform’s reach and accuracy to be less than previous election cycles, especially for list-building, direct-to-donate, and increasingly for individually-matched voter file campaigns. For campaigns, part of the puzzle is ad tracking – but part is Meta’s post-2020 move to reduce the amount of political content in users’ news feeds.

    :eyes: Some tactics do work - get in touch with us.

  • Diversify away from Facebook to programmatic and connected TV ads. These ad-buying platforms are less affected today by these moves, as more advertising happens on browsers or televisions. YouTube on television will likely remain a strong channel, but YouTube does have a significant app advertising business that is affected.

  • The voter file isn’t everything. Matching real-life voters to digital identities was never a perfect science. Sticking only to individually-matched voters lowers your campaign’s reach. Look at targeting by ZIP code, site (e.g., MSNBC or local newspaper viewers), and other contextual clues.

What does this mean over the long term?

  • As each year passes, the finely tuned and powerful digital advertising machines will be gradually less efficient at matching real-life voters to precise digital identities.

  • TFC has spent the last two years researching ways to use digital ads to reach and drive incremental votes among more diverse, younger, and harder-to-contact audiences outside of traditional voter file outreach. These tracking moves underscore the need to invest in this research during the first half of 2022 to provide best practices for November.

  • Campaigns and committees need to develop opt-in lists of supporters that you can use for communication and advocacy, not just fundraising. Email and opt-in SMS is not subject to Big Tech policy decisions or shadowy matching processes. These supporters are yours, as long as you treat them with respect.

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