Kentucky’s Digital Mad Men

Surrounded by tall shelves of fine Kentucky bourbon on the fourth floor of a renovated building on Market Street, in Louisville, that is owned by his company and leased to other tech startups Stacy Griggs takes a bite of salad.

Griggs is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO of El Toro, a tech company based in Louisville, Kentucky, that is changing the face of digital political advertising across the globe. He is eating salad in a deep brown tufted leather chair on the brisk December day I visit the El Toro offices. The salad was brought from down the hall where a staff party is taking place for completing a two-year project to launch a next-generation campaign portal. He has been recently cutting out carbs, but he imbibed with staff by eating the slice of the square pie and has stirred a deeper hunger within him for another slice that he is currently trying to combat with the vegetables disappearing from his plate.

Like the square pizza vanishing down the hall, El Toro has been steadily earning a larger and larger slice of the digital ad ecosystem with patented technology that serves ads based on unique IP addresses. While virtually every other web ad is fed via a cookie, clients of El Toro can directly target the exact client they are seeking. For their political clients that can equate to proven boosts in voter turnout.

“We can do things that no one else does,” says Marty Meyer the VP of El Toro IP Targeting. “We can measure results, and not just show you how many clicks we got you.”

El Toro is able to boast an impressive 8 to 15 percent lift in voter turnout, among targeted voters compared to a control group. They are so confident in their technical ability that if they do not show a minimal 5 percent lift in voter turnout they will return half of the client’s money, a bespectacled Marty tells Kentucky Fried Politics.

Marty, with his long wavy hair and goatee looks like he could be cast as an over-the-hill rock-and-roll musician, has a long history in Kentucky politics. His father is former state Sen. Danny Meyer, D-Louisville, who served in Frankfort for four terms retiring in 1994. The elder Meyer also served as a Louisville alderman for two terms before joining the state legislature.

Marty took on the mantle of his father, running for the 38th Dist. State Senate seat in 2010, losing to then GOP incumbent Sen. Dan Seum. Meyer also served as the district representative for Congressman John Yarmuth for his first two terms in Congress from 2006 through 2010. He then served as Legislative Assistant to Louisville Metro Councilman David Yates from 2010 until joining El Toro as one of their first employees in 2013.

When Marty joined El Toro the ask of him was simple, bring in 100 political clients. That year they had 427 political clients and were maxed out on what they could deliver – joking that the operation was a bit like the Wizard in Oz, they were not as sophisticated with their automation at that point and it meant a hands-on approach. They have grown considerably since that campaign season incorporating automation and growing their staff significantly.

“We’ll work in probably 6,000 to 8,000 campaigns next year,” Griggs said of the upcoming 2022 midterm campaign cycle.

El Toro works at all levels of political campaigns, they serve everything from U.S. presidential contenders, to gubernatorial and senatorial campaigns, and even foreign presidential candidates.  

Even though Meyer has a political bend he is in a sales role, but El Toro the company is a non-partisan entity. They service both Democratic and Republican clients, and typically deal with ad agencies from the political clients, and not the political campaigns themselves.

“We’re not a firm, we’re a technology company, we are a digital platform like Facebook or Google,” Meyer said, making the comparison that they are delivering the ad inventory and targeting their clients.

Changes in the digital ad industry are making for an exciting time for El Toro as it gets easier to wipe cookies from devices, and it is easier for individuals to opt-out of cookies altogether, El Toro is essentially the only company in the world that is primarily cookie-free and able to target whoever brands are looking for and not just based on their interests, but based on the data.  

A wall of patents held by El Toro

Over the past several years brands that initially were hesitant are now seeing the value of El Toro and their IP targeting.

“We’re still very much in the early innings of sharing our story with advertisers, brands, political consultants, and candidates,” Griggs said. “Anytime you’re challenging the status quo it’s going to take longer than you think.”

The company is growing fast they are projecting they will more than double in size again in 2022. The growth brings with it questions of space, something Griggs and his partners have been expecting.

They have bought or building a number of properties they will be announcing soon in the NuLu area that includes a 100,000 + square foot office tower, 450 space parking garage, apartments, grocery store, and a $53 million hotel. They are looking at what they need, and what other NuLu innovators need, and what the community needs.

The group is looking at the area through the lens of live, work, and play. NuLu has lots of bars and restaurants, but they are adding to that mix with the housing and space for other companies to grow as they grow.

A better way to target and a better way to measure the efficacy of online ads, that at its core is what El Toro is building their success upon. And it is not just political, targeting physical addresses and delivering an ad through that IP makes up one of their top tools, they can also take a high-value location and polygon that location to grab IP addresses in that location to serve ads to like a project they have with the Florida Department of Transportation.

The tech is different than the traditional geolocation used by other companies which use cell-tower triangulation to serve ads that tech, they say, includes overreach because of the imprecise nature of the tool. The El Toro tech can target a location within a square meter.

El Toro can use a toolset to map a polygon around a physical location and capture data from users in that location. The tool can be used for businesses seeking to target clients, or to target potential new employees. In the case of the state of Florida, El Toro is using the tool for public safety by targeting devices frequently seen in dangerous intersections with high rates of motorcycle, bicycle, and pedestrian accidents.

“We take those people that are frequently in those intersections and are more likely to be involved in one of those accidents, and we have started putting a very targeted set of PSA’s in front of them to make them aware of motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians at intersections and we believe in the long term that will result in fewer accidents at those intersections,” Griggs said.

 The tech is offering the ability to change the ad world. Now the government and politicians can hyper-focus on people directly or at locations they want to somehow influence and avoid taking that message to the masses, but instead pinpoint target – something Griggs and Meyer say can be used to do a lot of good, like keeping the public safe. However, there will be critics of the technology and many with concerns over a right to privacy in an increasingly digital world.

“All the data we use is opt-in, people have opted-in via the apps on their phone, they can opt-out of that data as well,” Griggs said. “We also, separately, give people the option to opt-out of us targeting them via us, on our website. The third thing is we do not release data about individuals.”

The El Toro company also does not collect website behavior to serve ads like some of the other ad sources currently use, something Griggs called “creepy.”

It is a new world with ever-increasing technology and digitally-led lives, and there are Kentuckians leading the charge in shaping that world. As you read this article on your phone or laptop you likely have already been served an ad or will be. Maybe that ad is connected to El Toro, or one of the other digital ad companies – there’s no getting around these changes. El Toro is doing it smarter and more precisely and making Kentucky a hub for something big and exciting.

Just like before, whatever you do with that ad information and how you interact with this digital world is up to you.