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Tunnl | Products | Audiences | Opinion Makers

Tunnl vs. Applecart: Best Political & Issue Advocacy Advertising Tools

April 14th, 2023 | 10 min. read

Adam McInturff

Adam is Tunnl's Director of Business Development. He joined the team in February of 2022.

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You know that song you hear everywhere? It’s on the radio during your commute. Your friends are humming it when you’re out to dinner. It’s the new it-song on social media. It’s an inescapable earworm that’s suddenly stuck in your head and all you can think about. After a while, you know every word, and you’re singing along.

That sensation is possible with your political and issue advocacy message, too - if you can get the right people buzzing about it. Tunnl and Applecart, two leading audience intelligence platforms connecting you to the nation’s most influential audiences, have mastered the art of making your message top of mind for voters, consumers, and decision-makers. 

But which solution is the best option for your targeted legislative campaigns? 

Both tools have their perks, but they take very different approaches to audience identification and influence. Tunnl isn’t for everyone, nor is Applecart, and you deserve all the details to make an informed decision aligned with your unique campaign needs. We’ll walk you through the pros and cons of both audience intelligence tools so you can pick the approach for you. 

What’s the Difference Between Applecart and Tunnl?

blog-1Both Applecart and Tunnl offer ways for you to advertise to specific, highly-targeted audiences curated based on their alignment with your campaign. The big difference is how they do it. 

Applecart uses a combination of relationship mapping and social pressure to get your message in front of a connected group of people who can (theoretically) influence each other into acting or thinking a certain way. The idea is to deliver your message more often to a small, interconnected group to achieve your campaign goal.

On the other hand, Tunnl believes that “curated” and “small” are not mutually exclusive when it comes to effective audience targeting. Tunnl builds audiences based on interests, opinions, sentiments, and more. It is targeting that unites people around more than social proximity to ensure your message resonates with the right people at scale. 

Your decision about which is best suited to your campaigns will likely come down to these two factors:

  • What is your campaign goal? If you need to induce one policymaker to act, the social pressure approach of Applecart is your answer. If you want to reach a curated group of voters, consumers, or decision-makers directly about your issue, use Tunnl.
  • What is your budget? Applecart and Tunnl are at different price points and promise return on ad spend through different means.

But there’s more to the difference between Tunnl and Applecart than just methods and money. Let’s get granular.


Applecart Pros and Cons

Applecart relies on the effectiveness of social pressure to induce decisions and behaviors. Essentially, their model works on the assumption that your actions and opinions are influenced by the people in your life - coworkers, neighbors, family, friends, classmates, etc. Applecart asks who you want to reach, creates a social graph for that individual to map their relationships, and tells you to target that web of influencers. 

It’s a well-researched strategy that has its peaks and valleys.


What are the benefits of Applecart?

Applecart maintains a respectable share of the audience intelligence market for a reason. Their methodology is clever and unique, relying on the well-known political impact of social pressure.

“Applecart has really defined the Opinion Maker targeting space,” says Brian Rose, Tunnl’s Vice President of Account Management. “They do a great job of figuring out interpersonal networks and connecting their activities to online actions - but they have a very different approach than we do.”

network (1)Social pressure, also known as community pressure, has been shown to increase voter turnout by capitalizing on the fear of missing out or the fear of peer judgment for not being an active participant in politics when all your neighbors, friends, or colleagues are. Peer pressure works, for better or worse.

Applecart provides a unique product and opportunity through their delivery of a strategically defined, researched, and narrowed web of contacts with access to your main target. Get to them, and you’ll get to your goal.

What are Applecart’s drawbacks?

There’s one significant element to note about Applecart’s social graphic strategy: Applecart only provides a tiny group of people for you to target, jeopardizing your deliverability and limiting the scale of your campaign. There is an ideal audience size that ensures you make an impact - not too big, not too small. You’ll need to determine your ideal audience size based on your campaign goals before selecting an audience intelligence tool - and decide if you trust a small collective of people to do the persuading for you.

Come prepared to pay, too. Since Applecart’s social mapping technique is very detailed, it can take time to curate your audience, and it may be costly to access. The service promises to reduce your ad spend by only targeting influential people and increasing how often your ad gets delivered, but calculating your potential savings is a little tricky. You’ll need to talk to sales to figure out if they fit within your budget.

While you have them on a call, ask Applecart about their user interface as well. If you’re looking forward to analyzing audience insights in a navigable platform before you activate them in your ads, Applecart may not be the audience intelligence solution for you. Their main deliverable is a social graph that tells you who you can reach with ads to influence your key targets, but you may have limited information about who those people are, where and when they consume media, and thus how best to resonate with them.


Tunnl Pros and Cons

CTA-Get-ReportTunnl is an audience intelligence platform that uses machine learning, surveys, and data modeling to develop hundreds of prebuilt audiences, including several prebuilt audiences of influential people across critical sectors

One audience is frequently weighed against Applecart’s offering, though: Tunnl’s U.S. Policy Opinion Makers audience is the most comparable product to Applecart’s service. The U.S. Policy Opinion Makers audience is part of our Premier Audience Suite, a collection of four premium audiences that deliver your message directly to the top decision-makers in U.S. policy, healthcare, finance, and tech.

The U.S. Policy Opinion Makers audience consists of the top 1% of people who most directly influence our nation’s policy (about 1.7 million leaders), including:

  • Members of Congress
  • Members of the Executive Branch 
  • Lobbyists  
  • Business leaders  
  • News media professionals 
  • The most politically active citizens 

But how does it stack up to Applecart’s social graph mechanism? Let’s take an honest look.


What are the benefits of Tunnl?

Tunnl’s U.S. Policy Opinion Makers audience is an affordable solution to influencing policy at scale right away. Because it is a prebuilt audience, it is ready for activation the second you subscribe, keeping your campaigns moving even at a moment’s notice; no need to wait.



It’s also built for scale. The U.S. Policy Opinion Makers audience is comprised of 1.7 million people uniquely positioned to forward your cause or campaign, giving you a higher chance at reaching definitively influential people more often. Everyone in the audience is a game-changer in their own right. 

Tunnl Tip: Never worry about changing relationships and how they’ll impact the accuracy of your targeting with the U.S. Policy Opinion Makers audience. It’s refreshed regularly based on updated data, so you always have access to the most influential policy influencers.

tunnl-premiumWith Tunnl, you’ll be able to see varying insights about the U.S. Policy Opinion Makers audience that can improve your campaign planning and reach efficiency as well. Platform access enables advertisers to:

  • Exclude, union, and overlap audiences to create quasi-custom target audiences that align with your campaign issues using our Audience Builder.
  • Measure paid and earned media mentions of critical subjects within your industry across your ads, allies’ ads, and competitors’ ads to keep tabs on the competition and track your own progress with policymakers.


What are Tunnl’s drawbacks?

Tunnl is ideal for reaching an influential community at scale, so it may not suit your hyper-focused legislative strategy if you need to bombard a specific senator or policymaker. Unlike Applecart, Tunnl and the U.S. Policy Opinion Makers audience do not provide you with a handful of individuals and their closest contacts.

We've created a holistic audience that is built for scale and reachability,” says Brian Rose, Tunnl’s Chief Revenue Officer. “But with that comes the inability to directly talk to the head of the HHS and the head of the DHS or five specific senators. What we are really helpful for is when organizations want to elevate themselves or their issues amongst Washington as a whole versus a couple of key senators.


Which audience intelligence tool is the most effective for advertising to policymakers? 

If you’re considering Tunnl’s U.S. Policy Opinion Makers audience or Applecart’s social graphing service, you’re in one of the toughest positions in advertising: trying to reach America’s most elusive and powerful people. 

With such a challenging and nuanced goal, there’s no definitive right or wrong answer about how best to reach your audience; you’ll have to be the judge of that. 

Your decision may be a bit easier as you learn more about the U.S. Policy Opinion Makers audience in Tunnl's Premier Audience Suite. The insights available in the Tunnl platform can help you decide if it’s the right fit as well. 

Whichever solution you choose, you’ll have a proven connection to the influential audience you’re aiming for.