Through partnerships with big data firms, like Acxiom, the site layers of behavioral information, such as shopping habits. What that means is that Facebook, with its reach across a huge swath of the U.S. electorate, can pinpoint individual voters at the most granular of levels. And that’s why campaigns are buying their way in, reshaping not only campaign budgets but how the political battle itself is fought and won.
Facebook won’t be the only digital behemoth that gets a revenue boost from political spending in 2015 and 2016. Google, one of Facebook’s chief rivals for campaign dollars, is expected to garner big sums, especially with its preroll ads on YouTube, inventory for which is already running low in Iowa and New Hampshire.
A rising tide, after all, lifts all boats, and Forrester Research projects that total spending on digital ads—for all American advertisers, not necessarily those in politics—will overtake television in 2016. But when it comes to knowing its audience, campaign strategists say Facebook remains king. “You’re just not going to find that level of data with any other ad networks,” Skatell says.
Almost every major contender or their PAC has already bought Facebook ads this year. One reason is how precise campaigns can be. Paul’s team is trying to gather email addresses for potential Iowa voters. So the campaign is running Facebook ads “to people who we know are likely caucus goers, who like Rand Paul’s page, for example, and whose email we don’t have,” Harris says.