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Will WPP’s new Xaxis Politics swing the US presidency?

WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell likes years with big events – he reckons, correctly no doubt, that advertisers flood in to such things like lemmings – and they don’t come much bigger than the US presidential election.

Nearly $12bn has supposedly been earmarked by the various candidates and their supporters for the election, with digital to account for $1bn. Most of the budgets go on TV advertising.

Programmatic buying outfit Xaxis, now the biggest driver of WPP’s media profits, is hoping to make a killing by teaming with Haystaq, a data analytics company that helped Barack Obama in two elections by building profiles of 166m US individuals, about half the population. This was used for emails and direct mail.
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Xaxis reckons it can match these profiles to online users’ usage via its own humungous database and target ads at them.

Xaxis US boss Brian Gleason told the FT this “laser-like targeting” will allow it to target voters with “granularity,” which we might translate as ‘exactly.’ The new tool is called Xaxis Politics.

It will be interesting to see if Xaxis Politics is made available to any buyer or just one favoured candidate or party. This is an ethical issue for WPP as one or more of the candidates will be a dangerous (but rich) fruitcake who may make the world a more dangerous place than it already is. Donald Trump anyone? Does Sorrell have a veto?

Even since the US Supreme Court lifted restrictions on political advertising the US presidency has become the likely destination of the richest candidate. Barack Obama won in 2008 by being smarter (many would say better too). He held on for a second term in 2012, quite easily it turned out, because of Republican disarray as much as enthusiasm for Democratic policies.

Candidates don’t have to be individually rich, of course, but they need rich backers. Xaxis Politics must be quite tempting for them. But it’s a worrying sign for politics as a whole when a better digital mousetrap might swing an election in the world’s richest and most powerful country.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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