Convert protestors into voters with geofenced mobile ad campaigns

6 mins read
Protesters teargassed as police disperse them near the White House. ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP

Protesting is good, but voting is even better. How do you target messages to protestors to encourage them to also register to vote? Geofenced mobile ads.
 Geofencing is a widely used, affordable form of advertising. It lets you target your message to people who were in a specific area at a given time. The message is delivered in the form of a mobile ad to their phones. A target geofenced audience for instance might be peaceful protestors outside the Whitehouse on Monday June 1st between 5-7 PM EDT before they were teargassed.

“President Donald Trump spurred fresh outrage after police used tear gas to clear protesters triggered following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As Trump spoke, law enforcement, including military police, could be seen firing tear gas to clear peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park, outside the White House, so the president could walk over to the church. The move earned him a sharp rebuke from the city mayor and the Episcopal bishop.” – Al Jazeera

The First Amendment and Digital Surveillance
The First Amendment to the constitution reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Digital targeting can be a used to promote voting – but in some cases authorities use it for surveillance and to suppress protests. It’s important for peaceful protestors to protect their privacy.

Privacy & security tips from Hong Kong protestors:
1. Leave regular phones at home. Use burner phones or walkie-talkies instead.
2. Disable GPS and put your phone on ‘Airplane Mode’ to protect your privacy.
3. Disable FaceID and FingerID to prevent your phone from being opened forcibly.
4. Use live video streaming services to upload videos in case your phone is confiscated.
5. Use What3Words to share meeting locations confidentially.
6. Use DuckDuckGo as your search engine to not be tracked online.

DemLabs applied geofencing to assist a non-profit group working to encourage protestors to register to vote. The geofencing part of this project took an hour. We used a commercial advertising service to  create a virtual boundary (geofence) around the area where and when the protests took place near the White House.

Geofencing intro
Geofencing is a widely used targeting technique used by companies to advertise to their most likely customers. Geofencing combines a person’s location, time and characteristics to decide whether to advertise to them. For example, a car dealer may want to advertise their own offerings to car buyers visiting a rival’s car showroom.

Most mobile apps regularly transmit their location tagged with a Mobile Address Ad Id (MAID). MAIDs are different than a person’s phone number in order to protect their privacy. It’s even possible to geofence events that occurred up to a year ago.

The MAIDs to target with mobile ads can be filtered to make sure your advertising budget is spent on the people you want to reach. Some filtering criteria includes:
1. Targeting people in the area during the protests and not there earlier in the day?
2. Filtering out people outside your target age and income groups.
3. Customizing appeals to specific groups present such as (say) veterans or seniors.

Mobile ad service providers
Data brokers collect and resell data to mobile advertisers on which MAIDs were at a chosen location and time period. Dozens of vendors offer geofenced mobile ad campaigns, but only a few offer low-budget, self service campaigns. Mobile ad service providers also provide zip codes (not addresses) of the MAIDs identified for advertisers to improve their ad design and targeting.  (More on geo-targeting here).

Where did the protestors come from?
Where was the most protest activity?

Cost effectiveness
Geofenced ads are cost-effective because they can be targeted very precisely. Mobile ads cost about $10/CPM. (CPM is the industry term for the cost to deliver an add to a thousand people).

Sending a mobile ad twenty (20) time each to the 1,450 MAIDs identified for the protestors outside the White House in this project would cost:
1,450 MAIDs x 20 ad exposures  each x $10/CPM = $290
Assuming a 2% response rate 29,000 ads delivered x 2% = 580 click throughs
This translates to approx 580 / $290 = $2 / click through

Take away
A crisis is a terrible thing to waste“. Convert protestors into voters with geofenced campaigns.

Co-Founder, DemLabs

DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.

Democracy Labs is a hub for ongoing technology and creative innovation that serves progressive campaigns and organizations at the national, state, and local levels.

Our focus is on long term, sustainable and affordable solutions. An approach that is longer than an election cycle, and isn’t purely dependant on volunteers, can enable more qualified candidates to run for office and for more issue groups to bring about positive social change.

Democracy Labs is a project of the Tides Advocacy Fund.

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