Advertising Online Pro Tip: Stop Using Cookies

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Advertising Online Pro Tip: Stop Using Cookies

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By Alex Wenzel, Chief Digital Strategist for Ring

Nowadays, every campaign knows it needs to advertise online. Display advertisements (sometimes called “banner ads”) are growing in importance in today’s campaigns, but how to do it right is not totally obvious. Myriad are the George Baileys who promise to lasso the moon, and it takes discernment to choose how to get your content in front of your voters. The key: keep it simple.

Why Cookies Fail to Deliver

You should be able to run your digital display campaign as simply as you run a mail campaign. Give your provider a list, the provider scrubs it or matches it with delivery addresses, and tells you how many houses or devices they can reach, how often, and for how much.

Digital display advertising has become over-complicated, mainly because of regulations surrounding the use of “personally identifiable information” or “PII” and the origins of the cookie as a shopping cart tool. Simply put, the companies who know what you’re doing online, don’t necessarily know it’s you, but rather Cookie Profile ID FN2187TK421. Cookie-based profile matching is what the vast majority of online advertisers perform, and there are two main problems with this for political campaigns.

First, we don’t know whether FN2187TK421 has a voting history, or what his or her physical address is. FN2187TK421 may share characteristics with people who are likely to vote, may read news on the same websites, or may have similar purchase histories, but because that cookie profile can’t be 100% verified back to the voter list, we won’t know if they’re a reliable voter.  They have to be statistically modeled and scored to see if they’re likely to vote.

Second, it is generally understood that more than half of Internet traffic is fake. Non-Human Traffic is made up of programs that exist to spoof human Internet traffic, performing automated tasks online, or scamming advertisers out of their money. These “bots” are made to look just like you, or just like someone advertisers are interested in being in front of. Then ads get served to the bots, you get charged for them, and you end up losing over half of your online advertising budget to machines. This results from cookie-based advertising methods being unable to tell the difference between a bot and a human, and this problem has actually spawned a whole new product for cookie-based campaigns, designed to estimate how much of each particular campaign is being served to bots (it’s called traffic verification, and no, it doesn’t solve the problem).

The Solution

Your question now is, “OK Hot Shot, how do you get around these problems?” The answer is to not use cookies to target voters online. “OK,” you say, “then how am I supposed to find people online if I don’t use cookies? Isn’t that the only way?” Thankfully, you can now target people based on their home address, just like you would a mail campaign, by using their Internet Protocol (“IP”) address. That means you don’t have a radius around each house – you get each house, and not their neighbors. The IP address functions as the delivery address for a WiFi network for all the devices using that WiFi network.  So your awesome WiFi handle “WinklevossTwins” has the IP Address of, and all the web content that shows up on your computer, phone, or tablet, comes through that IP Address.

The trick is finding the IP addresses for your list of targeted voters, and a handful of providers across the country have figured out how to do this reliably, using specialized technology and negotiated data agreements with strategic partners. A word to the wise: some digital advertising firms claim to use IP targeting, but source their IP addresses from cookies (bringing into question why that’s any better than straight cookie-based targeting). But of course, the best kinds of IP-targeting are 100% cookie-free, sourcing the IP addresses directly from strategic web partners or Internet Service Providers.

Brass Tacks

Functionally, using IP targeting is just like executing a mail campaign: You pare your voter list down to whatever subcategories you want, and deliver customized content to those groups of actual voters. No guesswork, and no statistical modeling to match anonymous profiles to your voter file based on a confidence interval. IP Targeting allows you to serve a GOTV ad to your reliable supporters who might only vote every other election. Serve a compelling persuasion ad to independent voters and make the case to them that your candidate is the right choice for them. Serve a contrast ad to supporters of the opposing candidate to suppress their votes. Chase absentee ballots with ads urging them to return their ballots before the deadline. Serve whatever ad you want to the exact households you want and be 98% certain your ads are being served at your targeted households. Isn’t that what digital advertising should be?


Alex Wenzel is the Chief Digital Strategist for Ring, which is available on CrimsonMarket