Where you eat, shop and play can determine the political ads you see on social media

Democrats are excluding people who eat at Cracker Barrel, a Southern-themed restaurant chain. Republicans are screening voters who shop at Whole Foods Market, a supermarket chain focused on natural and organic foods.

These are two examples of how political campaigns use people’s food, shopping and entertainment preferences in hopes of reaching the online audience most receptive to their political message, according to an Axios analysis of advertising data. policies at Meta, owner of Facebook and Instagram.

Axios says it has analyzed more than 93,000 targeting entries for paid political ads on Facebook and Instagram.

He revealed that Democrats were more likely to target fans of National Public Radio, a publicly and privately funded nonprofit media organization whose stated goal is to create a more informed audience; Outlets in Spanish like Univision; and people with a general interest in journalism. Republicans, on the other hand, were less likely to target potential voters based on their media preferences.

The GOP was more likely to focus on fans of the reality TV show “Duck Dynasty,” a family that makes products for duck hunters and is known for their long beards and conservative evangelical Christian views. Republicans have also targeted fans of popular country music singers and celebrity Southern chef Paula Deen. Democrats have focused more on fans of singer Lady Gaga and musical genres like salsa and hip hop.

FILE – Fresh fruit on display at a Whole Foods Market grocery store in Upper Saint Clair, Pennsylvania.

In addition to Whole Foods, Republicans also rejected people who shop at Trader Joe’s, a grocery chain known for its unique and eclectic offerings at reasonable prices, opting instead to target Chick-fil-A fans. , a popular fast-food restaurant whose general manager the officer has made statements opposing same-sex marriage in the past.

“We used to be able to get even narrower and target people by race or by partisanship, and so that’s all been taken out, so those targets of interest are now just an indicator of what’s been done before,” says Megan Clasen, a digital marketing consultant who has worked on both Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns.

“It is more risky when you run a persuasive campaign. When you make assumptions about how people’s interests impact their political views, you risk excluding people who might be with you just because they shop at certain places or watch a certain show.

Digital marketers had to get more creative with targeting last year, after public outcry prompted Meta to stop allowing advertisers to target their ads using factors such as race, sexual orientation and political or religious opinions.

“Facebook had tons and tons of data about people’s preferences and tastes. So if people liked Republican pages or if they liked Democratic pages, if they liked Republican politicians, if they liked Democratic politicians, if they had signed up for pro-life [anti-abortion] groups, or if they signed up for groups associated with pro-choice [pro-abortion rights]or second amendment [gun rights], or anti-tax groups,” says Tyler Brown, former director of digital strategy at the Republican National Committee (RNC). “So Facebook has also become a provider of what we would call third-party data. And the value for advertisers was that it was extremely robust and comprehensive.

Without this valuable metadata, political agents have focused on consumer preferences to reach certain parts of the electorate. While Republicans targeted people who shopped at stores selling outdoor gear, Democrats focused on fans of Nordstrom, a luxury department store chain; Lululemon, a premium sports brand; and Zara, an inexpensive fashion clothing retailer.

A Lululemon sportswear store in Birmingham, Michigan on April 16, 2020.

A Lululemon sportswear store in Birmingham, Michigan on April 16, 2020.

While the two main political parties often seem to aim for two different Americas, there were some commonalities. For example, both targeted Walmart shoppers.

Clasen believes in casting a wider net when it comes to digital marketing.

“A lot of times when we’re trying to persuade people, we’re kind of talking to people who are in the middle — maybe they don’t really identify as super liberal or super conservative,” she says. “So I think we have to be careful about using those kinds of inclusions or exclusions in our targeting when trying to persuade broader groups of voters.”

Republicans were more likely than Democrats to focus on sports fans, including hunters and people who follow NASCAR racing. Democrats tended to exclude deer hunters and motor racing fans from seeing their digital ads.

“They try to be more targeted than running general ads, but there’s a risk they’ll lose people in the gaps,” Brown says. “NASCAR has a large fan base. It’s very possible that many Democrats are NASCAR supporters, but [digital ad consultants] try to bet that, overall, they target their supporters more. And they assume that it’s a better method of targeting than just targeting a geographic area.

The Duck Dynasty clan at a NASCAR auto race in Fort Worth, Texas on April 6, 2014.

The Duck Dynasty clan at a NASCAR auto race in Fort Worth, Texas on April 6, 2014.

Both Brown and Clasen say this kind of targeting can be divisive on the internet, especially with Facebook’s algorithm already filtering posts so people see content they’re most likely to engage with.

“It’s obviously already creating a lot of polarization in social media environments,” Clasen says. “So it kind of contributes to that ongoing impact, if people really only see things that they’re likely to already agree with rather than seeing different opinions that they’re not used to. to be exposed.”

The politicization of trademarks also leads to increased polarization in American society, Brown says.

“I think we’re seeing a cultural divide, not just in terms of the media we consume, but also the brands we choose to support,” Brown says. “The reason the American experiment with democracy has been so successful for so long is that even though people may have different political preferences, they operate from the same shared sense of values ​​and vision. of the world… And I think as these people split into different camps, even these values ​​and these worlds and these perspectives are challenged and undermined.

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