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Microtargeting: powerful marketing tool or threat to democracy?

Considering that strategically targeted ads are clicked on up to 670% more than ordinary ones, it’s no wonder that microtargeting campaigns are becoming more and more important. Segmentation and microtargeting are valuable for commercial purposes and can help deliver content of great interest to customers.  However, they also have a potentially dark side — especially if information is inaccurate or biased and meant to sway someone’s preferences, or even their vote.

The days of mass segmentation are gone

While getting a message to the audience is imperative, getting the right message to the right audience is what really matters for every brand. By working with social media advertising platforms and the data they collect, marketers can target specific audiences using all or some of the following:  interests, location, employer, posts reacted to, web pages visited and much more. With all this information, it’s much easier to craft content tailored to the chosen audience and capitalise on viewers’ interests. The results of each targeted campaign can then be monitored, analysed and adjusted as needed to ensure a brand gets the best possible results. This technique is shown to better engage customers, build brand awareness and increase sales by delivering content that is interesting and helpful to customers.

Weaponised ad technology

Yet, despite its many benefits, microtargeting has a darker side and can potentially be weaponised. Political campaigns are increasingly combining data-driven voter research with personalised political advertising for the purpose of online political microtargeting. In so doing, an organisation can identify individual voters it is most likely to influence. Additionally, messages can be matched to the specific interests and concern of key elements of the electorate, as well as spread information which lacks a factual evidence base. In July 2018, an investigation by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)  found that political parties and campaign groups from all sides of the spectrum have been targeting potential voters using data analytics methods. The report made several recommendations for how these practices could be improved.

Call for more transparency

Earlier this month, the international charity Privacy International called out tech giants Facebook, Twitter and Google for their lack of political ad transparency.  The body highlighted how this is restricting user insight into how and why they are being targeted by such ads on social media platforms. A lot of other organisations around the world have also raised the alarm and called for tighter regulation of use of personal data by tech companies.  But too little has yet changed. Taken overall, microtargeting shouldn’t be thrown out of the window, despite misuses of data.  In this age of information overload, crafting a message that cuts through the noise and reaches the right audience is crucial for brands.

Microtargeting can be a great marketing tool or an unethical tactic, depending on who’s using it and how.  As with most technological tools that affect personal data, ethical practice, transparency and regulations are key – for both brands and political parties.

Author: Julie Carballo, Senior Consultant at Quiller

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Why Autumn 2019 is a party conference season like no other

Conference season has traditionally been an opportunity for parties to set out their stall to the electorate, and enthuse members, particularly in the run-up to a general election. With an election before the end of the year looking increasingly likely, and the October 31 Brexit deadline on the horizon, this year’s conference season was a key opportunity for parties to put on the strongest possible showing as they seek to consolidate their support in the run-up to what is proving to be one the most significant few weeks in modern political times.

Whilst the Liberal Democrats used their conference to cement their position as the “party of remain” announcing that a Liberal Democrat majority government would seek to immediately revoke Article 50, Labour provided less clarity. Labour delegates refused to back a motion which would have committed the party to backing remain in any future referendum.  They instead opted for a compromise, backed by Jeremy Corbyn, which sees Labour committing to negotiate a new Brexit deal which would be subject to a referendum with Remain on the ballot – but not commit to supporting Leave or Remain until that deal had been finalised.

With the Conservative Party conference somewhat overshadowed by the remarkable Supreme Court decision, along with the failure of parliament to pass a recess motion, little was achieved in Manchester.  Other than perhaps Boris Johnson doubling down his line of delivering Brexit “do or die” by October 31.

Despite the parties setting out their Brexit stalls, politics is so volatile that it remains hard to predict what will happen in the days, let alone weeks or months ahead.  There are several scenarios, any combination of which could be realised.

However, one thing we can now say with certainty is that there cannot be a general election before the 31 October.  Even if the prime minister seeks to table a third motion under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, November is now the earliest time for this to happen.

Presuming Johnson does want to force an election as soon as possible, he could now use the option of asking MPs to support a one-line motion, a proposal muted by the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.  This would fix the date of the election and require only a simple majority to pass, less than the two thirds under the Fixed Term Parliament Act.

Yet, this approach could be a high-risk strategy for the government, as opposition MPs would likely try to amend that motion.  For instance, Labour would likely try to force the release of Cox’s legal advice to the prime minister prior to his August prorogation statement.  

For now at least, MPs will be hesitant to fire the starting gun on an election campaign until a no-deal Brexit is definitely off the table, via the requirements set out in the so called “Benn Bill”.   This may mean that an election will not be triggered until the second half of October, at the earliest.

A further option for opposition MPs to force a change in government is to seek to call a vote of no-confidence.  However, anti-Brexit MPs have expressed concerns that this would further eat into the little time left before the 31st of October and would still leave open the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

A final, potentially ‘nuclear’, option would be for the government to table a vote of no-confidence in itself, which given the uncertain times we live in, is certainly not beyond the pale. This may be a government which has lost the ability to govern in parliament, but until the Brexit impasse is broken, it has little choice but to soldier on.

Author: Tim Hammersley, Junior Consultant at Quiller

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