Addressable TV is here, and we’re all for sale

Up until recently, television advertiser’s ability to optimize and direct content was relatively limited – beyond targeting certain media markets, channels or TV programs, it was difficult to disseminate messages to individual groups directly. Addressable TV advertising, on the other hand, uses digital data to target ad campaigns at specific households, even individual consumers, based on certain unique demographic factors.

While the audience as a whole sees one show, not everyone sees the same commercials. The delivery of “addressable” ads can take into account a wide variety of variables, of which income range, location, age, marital status and spending preferences are just a few. Marketing executives appreciate the innovation that lies behind hyper-targeted, data-driven TV advertising, for its ability to increase and measure the ROI of their ad spends. However, within this potential for specificity lies the potential for abuse, particularly in the political arena.

How ‘Addressable TV’ Works

TV set-top boxes in about 45 percent of U.S. household are IP-addressable. The IP address combined with other data derived from browsing habits, activity on mobile devices and demographics contributes to a household profile. Based on this profile, specific ads or ad versions are displayed, which are calculated to match preferences and buying habits. Volvo and VW are already big customers of data-driven ads on TV, which they use successfully to target ads to households that their data show are primed for a car purchase.

Eyeview is one company specializing in developing such programmatic ads tailored to a particular company’s ad campaign and individual viewer demographics. Eyeview partners with big-data providers that can ascertain specific consumer behaviors and place them in terms of a purchase cycle.

Addressable TV’s Use in Political Campaigns

Data-driven ads are already being deployed in the current Presidential election cycle. Dish Network and DirecTV are both working with Democratic and Republican data firms to tailor TV ad campaigns based on voter demographic data during the primary and general election seasons. This is an extension of their D2 initiative, which has been reaching over 20 million households with targeted consumer advertising.

Their techniques enable door-by-door differentiation in ad delivery. Persuasion ads are sent to voters whose profiles indicate they are undecided rather than wasting ad budgets on true believers or those voters with entrenched hostility to a particular candidate or ballot measure.

The Implications of Data-Driven TV

In principle, data-driven TV advertising is no different than a grocery cashier handing you coupons based on daily purchases. In that case, however, the connection between the data and action is clear. When personal profiles are developed from massive data aggregation via multiple third parties, it can lead to hyper-targeting, which represents individuals as dehumanized virtual data banks. In the political world, this has the potential to turn campaigns inside out by transforming voters into the product in place of the candidates. It enables methods that explicitly tell voters for whom they must vote.

Such manipulation of opinion via individually customized information is counter to the principles of a democratic society. Rather than supplying multiple perspectives from which individuals decide issues for themselves, they can be served only information designed to instill a pre-ordained conclusion based on an exceedingly narrow view. That is not a basis for a healthy democracy.

The fundamental techniques used in addressable TV ad targeting are not unfamiliar. But the degree to which these techniques introduce highly-specific customization of information, especially in the context of politics, is new. Addressable television may be the next big way to build up a brand, but it should not be allowed to manipulate decisions which may alter the direction of entire Presidential elections.



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