Previously, presidential candidates relied on free media to reach their target viewers. This, however, proved problematic since they had no control over the content of the media. They, therefore, graduated from just acquiring media coverage to controlling it. By controlling the media, the presidential candidates could decide the information their viewers receive. However, to determine the perfect message that will sit well with their target audience, the presidential candidates have come up with new ways to know what their viewers want.
To grasp the concept of how viewers have been targeted, it is important to evaluate the actions of Cambridge Analytica during the last U.S. presidential election. Cambridge Analytica improvised a way in which they would access viewers’ data through Facebook connections. According to Icenberg (n.p), “They used information not only of people who gave them info, but also their friends without their consent through Facebook.” Consequently, they invented a mechanism with which they could determine users’ psychological traits. They then used these traits to develop a specific message that would appeal to their personalities. The information gathered helped Trump create correct local profiles enabling him to appeal to them. His campaigners used this method to increase Trump awareness. By using fake accounts and questionnaires, they gathered specific information regarding the voting patterns of the individual. Using this information, Cambridge Analytica aimed at targeting the intended viewers with their message and to influence their voting decision.
Icenberg reason for people targeting viewers individually is “…this is why campaigns have tried to figure out for a long time how they can disaggregate the electorate beyond the big categories that mass media reaches and deliver communication individually.” The method of targeting viewers eliminated the uncertainty of the mass media in which a person can decide to either read a newspaper or watch television. With traditional ways of advertising like television and newspaper advertisement, the people reading might not even be in the voting district that the presidential candidate aims for. Nevertheless, by acquiring the viewers’ personal information, a candidate can fashion a specific message that pertains to this particular group. By doing so, the viewers will feel that the candidate is addressing their issue and are more inclined to vote for the candidate.
In addition to using Facebook to gather viewers’ information, presidential campaigns also use publicly available sources of information. The information includes drivers’ license database, political parties that one registers for, email address and one’s ethnicity. Apart from these sources, magazine subscriptions are recorded, purchases made online are monitored, and data on any license that one acquires is stored. Once this data is acquired, statistical models are used to churn it and make predictions. The predictions indicate the candidate that an individual are likely to vote for, as well as what policies one would prefer their candidate to support.
Presidential candidates resort to acquiring data that would help them deliver personalized messages individually. They are moving from mass communication where the message was too widespread to yield maximum return. By acquiring personal data, they eliminate persons that are ineligible to vote, as well as people not intended to receive certain messages. The candidates target their viewers through accessing their personal information. The information might not be gathered legally, but it proves helpful in profiling viewers during the campaigns. Once these viewers are profiled, they are then targeted with tailored messages through their phone numbers and emails. Some campaign managers further targeted potential voters through various online social platforms like Facebook or YouTube with catchy phrases and hash tags that arouse their interests to rally behind their candidate.
Icenberg, Sacha. Guest Lecture. (2018)
Sides, John. “A deep dive into the news media’s role in the rise of Donald J. Trump.” The Washington Post. Zugriff am 11. (2016).