With data leaks, government surveillance, targeted advertising and other issues dominating news cycles, it’s clear that privacy has been a hot-button issue in recent years. However, one of the biggest privacy-related developments has gone nearly unnoticed by most outside of the advertising industry. Addressable advertising is the latest tactic in using big data to target specific individuals, and it may just be the most audacious step yet. What’s more, its use extends far beyond targeting products and services. Highly personalized, ‘addressable’ ads are already changing this year’s political election, and it may be only the beginning.

Addressable Advertising

 For years, digital advertising, primarily online, was the gold standard for businesses, political groups and other organizations seeking to reach specific, targeted audiences. Online advertisers are accustomed to working with a tremendous amount of detailed information on each user, ranging from demographics to income to their individual behaviors and tendencies, which greatly increases the relevance and efficiency of advertising campaigns. Until recently, this kind of pinpoint targeting was unthinkable for television advertising. The data available on viewers, most of which originated from surveys by Nielsen and other market-research companies, was simply too broad to be of use in individually targeted ad campaigns.

Addressable advertising has changed all that. The confluence of digital television, advanced data-mining technology and increasingly sophisticated advertising strategies has opened up a whole new world in targeted television advertising. Nearly half of all American households who own televisions can now receive targeted advertisements, and that number is only expected to grow. Many organizations have partnered with video advertising companies like Eyeview to draw on data as diverse as household income, viewing habits, charitable donations, Internet browsing activity and more to develop comprehensive profiles and make decisions on where their ads should be directed.

A Political Game-Changer

Of course, it isn’t just corporations taking advantage of this new technology. Political campaigns have long used every tool at their disposal to reach would-be voters, and addressable advertising may be the most valuable tool yet. Satellite television providers DISH Network and DirecTV have worked to make the process even easier for political campaigns, joining forces with Republican and Democratic data firms to offer a simple addressable advertising platform that enables campaigns to reach more than 20 million households across the United States.

The appeal of such a tool is obvious, particularly for political campaigns intent on reaching undecided voters. While campaign speeches and other media events must attempt to appeal to a wide and diverse audience, targeted advertising allows campaigns to tailor their message to individual voters and even specific issues. A household whose recent purchases include a firearm may see a message advocating Second Amendment rights, while a household whose data includes a hybrid vehicle lease may see a message tailored to energy conservation or environmental concerns. This fine-grained access to individual households has already revolutionized the way campaigns interact with potential voters, and it has the potential to make a major impact on future elections.

The Future of Big Data

With an ever-growing base of addressable advertising-enabled households and a steady progression of data-mining technologies, it seems clear that the impact of big data will only continue to expand. In some ways, these technologies benefit the end user. Targeted advertising helps to ensure that more of the ads viewers see are directly relevant to their needs and interests, and targeted political messages keep viewers informed on issues that are important to them.

Unfortunately, it also represents a significant threat to privacy. There are few limits to the kind of data that can be logged and analyzed by corporations and political groups, and efforts to gather that data have become progressively more invasive as its importance grows. In a world where nearly every activity leaves a trail of data to be collected, analyzed and used to place households and individuals into specific demographic and psychographic categories, the boundaries of privacy are quickly evaporating.


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