Way back in the late 1980s, I was giving a keynote speech to the Direct Marketing Association, and one of stories I shared sparked both a laugh and an insight; junk mail is good mail that went to the wrong person. I went on to say that if I’m interested in sailboats and you send me something about snowmobiles, you’ve just sent me junk mail. But if you send me something about sailboats, you’ve just sent me something valuable because your message is in my interest zone. It’s no longer junk mail, it’s relevant mail.  I finished the story by giving them a prediction;  As the world becomes increasingly digital, marketers will be able to customize and eventually personalize every communication.

Fast Forward to the present, and it’s clear that the best marketers have already moved beyond customization to true personalization, For example, if you are conducting a number of searches about a sailboat that fits a certain make, model, size and price range, and then you go to a different unrelated website, it’s very likely you will see an ad for a sailboat that fits what you were looking for, almost as if they knew exactly what you were interested in.  And it is highly likely you would even click on it to find out more.  In addition, you might get a snail mail brochure a few days later advertising sailboats that fit your exact interests.

These intelligent personalized ads that match a person’s search patterns occur because of cookies. But cookies aren’t just for consumer products. They’re also for politics, and they will increasingly influence which political ads you see online, as they will grow more relevant over time.

Remember, cookies are the little bits of code that identify your browser online. Companies are accessing your browsing habits, which are stored in those cookies.  The best cookies come from the highest traffic websites, the ones you register to use. When you register to use those sites, the sites know who you are, where you are, and increasingly what you’re interested in. Your registration converts you from being an anonymous web surfer to a specific person with specific interests.

Now it’s possible for political campaign managers to access the cookies who know who you are, and combine that information with publically available information such as your political party registration. Then, they can look at your voting history, the types of charitable donations you make, your address, your age, etc. They can even take a look at your hobbies based on what you’ve been doing online and where you’ve been going from search to search.

Using all of this information, they can direct much more targeted campaign ads that know how to push your hot buttons.

When will this sort of targeting start happening? Right now. All the political candidates this year will be using this technology more and more as the Election Day draws closer to influence your vote. Will we still see all of those annoying campaign ads on television as we have in the past?  Yes, but in addition, the next time you see a political ad online and feel that it really resonates with you, realize that it does so for a reason. It was created specifically for you.