The breakout marketing story from the 2008 election was undoubtedly social media — how Obama and McCain leveraged channels like Facebook and Twitter to engage a young demographic of voters as it had never been done before.  While there’s little argument about who leveraged social media more effectively (hint: he’s in office now), many wonder how much impact Obama’s social media strategy had on the outcome of the election.  These days, the Internet is everything.  How much can a candidate’s digital strategy impact election results?

Now fast forward to 2012.  The world of social media has greatly evolved in the last four years. A highly strategic and measurable social media campaign is an important part of both candidates’ campaign strategy, and candidates are clearly more comfortable with it.  Recently, Obama held a live Twitter town hall on a whim — something that would have been meticulously planned during his 2008 campaign.

So, if social media was the breakout marketing story during the 2008 campaign, what is it this year?  We think it’s how candidates are leveraging sophisticated online intent data to target Internet users in order to raise money, share relevant information and persuade supporters to vote.  AdRoll’s president, Adam Berke, recently contributed to this AP article which explores the topic.

One major use of intent data within political campaigns is retargeting, or showing hyper-targeted ads to someone who has indicated interest in a candidate online (through browsing a candidate’s campaign site, for example), but has not yet taken an action.  This intent data can then be leveraged through ads, to target visitors who may be willing to make a future donation, volunteer or spread important campaign messages to likely voters.

Because of its effectiveness (on average, AdRoll customers get $10 back for every $1 spent) and measurability, there’s no doubt that retargeting is an important part of both candidates’ digital campaign strategies this year.  Here are a few tips to keep in mind when planning and managing a political retargeting campaign:

1. Maintaining Privacy

As political campaigns become more sophisticated with their messaging, privacy must still be maintained. Retargeted messaging cannot divulge a visitor’s political affiliation, opinion or donation habits.  While donations are essential to the life of a candidate’s campaign, solicitation through retargeting is a no-no. It may be tempting for candidates to serve ads asking for donations, but we prioritize a user’s privacy and refrain from doing so.  Retargeting is meant to build awareness around candidates and the issues they are passionate about, for their constituency.

2. Real-time Promotion

Candidates are able to use retargeting as a medium to highlight current issues and events in real-time.  Messaging can switch in a manner of hours and promote time-sensitive events.  For instance, last night President Obama finished promoting “An Evening With Two Presidents” sweepstakes.  The contest, which was advertised heavily through retargeting, offered a chance for two lucky winners to join President Obama and former President Clinton at a gala fundraising dinner on June 4th–a dinner that normally costs $35,800 to attend.  Retargeting allowed the President to not only stay engaged with his supporters but offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet two Heads of State.  That’s pretty cool.

3. Brand Safety Filters

Political retargeting can easily turn from the right message in front of the right user, to the wrong message on the wrong site.  Political opinions are at an all-time high in terms of polarity.  The last thing a candidate needs is to have one of their ads served on an ideologically conflicting site.  A well-run retargeting campaign will blacklist any and all politically opposing publications to ensure strong brand safety for a candidate.  A candidate in a close race would not want to incite their opposing base through misplaced ads before voting day.