Web Campaign '04: Politicos Embrace Search, Adapt TV Spots To Broadband Video
"I haven't seen it, but I've got a suspicion it's coming," predicts Phil Noble, founder of PoliticsOnline, a resource covering the use of the Web in political affairs. "With political ads it's sort of like adolescent sex, it's the fact it's happened at all that's really exciting."
Many candidates have experimented with campaign websites, email fundraising pleas and, less frequently, banner ads. Now some are beginning to display a stronger grasp of what the Web has to offer.
Take search marketing. A number of democratic candidates for next year's presidential race have caught on. Searching on "Howard Dean for President," for instance, prompts a Google AdWords ad for his official DeanforAmerica.com site on Google and a sponsored listing on Yahoo. Wesley Clark's and John Kerry's official campaigns have also purchased listings on Yahoo and Google, while the John Edwards campaign is running Google AdWords ads.
The Republican National Committee is running Yahoo sponsored results for "George Bush for President." But purchased links for Carol Moseley Braun, Dick Gephardt, Dennis Kucinich, Joseph Lieberman and Al Sharpton so far seem to be nonexistent.
"Advertising is supposed to reach people who can't be reached otherwise in order to influence them," comments Karen Jagoda, president of E-Voter Institute, a trade association that researches the convergence of politics and the Internet. Creative search marketing by the political organization, Independents for John Kerry, as well as the Dean campaign may fulfill that promise. On Google, purchased ads and listings for both Kerry and Dean crop up through searches for none other than George Bush.
Politicos are exploring rich media, too. During the California recall election, Arianna Huffington's campaign ran streaming video ads on AOL's News Channel. The geo-targeted spots garnered click-through rates of more than 5% during their two-day run, according to Michael Bassik, manager of media strategy for AOL's interactive marketing department.
Repurposing television spots to stream online remains the dominant rich media ad choice of political campaigns, most likely due to frugality and lack of knowledge of rich media's broader capabilities.
"They're using the Internet as a one-to-one broadcast as opposed to a real interesting interactive piece," opines PoliticsOnline's Noble.
The recycling of television spots for use online is indicative of a slow shift in budget allocation away from traditional media exclusively. According to Jagoda, Web ad money is being siphoned mainly from television, direct mail and phone bank coffers. "There's still no line item in the budget for online advertising," concludes Jagoda. "It's enhancing rather than replacing."
For the 2002 election, U.S. Senator Wayne Allard of Colorado ran banner ads on major Colorado news sites, the messages of which changed weekly in conjunction with television and radio ads. "The Internet represented an opportunity to have a presence so people could go directly from the news site to the Allard site and check for themselves the issue in question," notes Walt Klein, CEO of ad and marketing firm Walt Klein and Associates, and a media decision maker for the Allard campaign.
Influential online publishers such as Washingtonpost.com and AOL also are trying to woo political advertisers. Through its experiences in previous elections, AOL is more familiar with campaign buying cycles and is "meeting with campaigns on both sides" of the political aisle, says Bassik.
One thing AOL is pushing is the fact that the Internet population has become more representative of the nation's population. The political affiliation of online users resembles that of US residents as a whole. The Online Publishers Association's September 2003 study shows Internet users to be 31% Republican, 31% Democrat, 27% Independent and 11% "other."
Dr. David Hill is skeptical of the value of online political ads. Hill, who is the director of Hill Research Consultants and a pollster for Republican candidates, was pitched recently regarding email advertising. "I told him when a candidate has a fixed budget, I can't recommend areas where I can't validate efficacy."
Some believe it's only a matter of time until the Web becomes a significant ad medium for political campaigns. Affirms Klein, "Five or ten years down the road, we're going to come to a point where the first communication decision a major campaign will make will be 'what are we gonna put on the website?' "