Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's campaign teams spent more than $1 billion in advertising, but a study shows that both failed to take full advantage of online media. The biggest misstep points to a lack of coverage around key issues discussed during the debates, such as economy, taxes and budget.
Election filings show the Obama campaign spent more than $47 million for online advertising and marketing, compared with Romney's $4.7 million, reports Politico.
Jason Tabeling, partner and head of Rosetta's search and media practice, said the team began assessing Obama's and Romney's online media campaigns based on the same criteria they would use to review brand campaigns. Rosetta measured performance from Sept. 10 through Oct. 23.
Obama's campaign responded well to perceived wins and losses by the media through paid-search ads and landing pages. He was specific about calls to action and responding to specific topics. Search ads pointed to landing pages supporting his points, but Romney's camp didn't really take full advantage of that tactic, Tabeling explains.
Rosetta monitored keywords for paid-search ads before and after the debates. Candidates did not use many keywords they should have, according to the analysis. For example, in Ohio, a key swing state, Romney held 3% coverage, whereas Obama had 41%.
The difference indicates a key focus in response to specific issues discussed throughout the debates. Tabeling defines coverage as the percentage of times the candidate's ads serves up connected to a keyword in a search query or display advertisement.
Typically, online marketers shy away from telling clients to bid on competitive brand terms for search marketing campaigns, but the two presidential candidates did just that. Romney bid on Obama-related terms about 35% of the time. Obama bid on Romney-related terms about 17% of the time. Many of the keywords attempt to capture undecided voters.
Prices are higher and conversion rates lower when bidding on competitive brands. "People know the brand they want to buy, and it's difficult to persuade them to switch," Tabeling said.
Interestingly, each candidate protected searches for their own brand, but Obama had more exposure for searches related to foreign policy and health care subjects -- more than 37%. Romney spent more on vice president-related terms -- over 58% -- and bid on Obama-inclusive searches. Romney had no measured exposure for health care and Obamacare-related terms.
Obama gained the most exposure from online banner ads in the first and second quarters of 2012, while Romney dominated in Q3 and Q4. President Obama gained nearly five times the total number of impressions of display advertising ad units during 2012. Romney continues to close the gap in Q3 and early Q4 with a more aggressive strategy, according to Nielsen's AdRelevance Tool.
The political war for exposure through paid, owned and earned media became a major battle for the candidates.