Will the Internet Drop Out of the '04 Race?

Although the Pentagon has decided that 2004 will not be the year that the Internet replaces the voting booth for picking the next president of the United States (because a pilot program wasn't secure enough) and further, has canceled plans to collect votes over the Internet from military personnel and civilians abroad for this fall's presidential election, the Internet will still play a major role in this year's election.

Already every candidate is using the Internet for campaigning and, more importantly, for fund-raising. Early on, stories appeared saying that Howard Dean was "made" by the Internet; then later; he was "undone" by the Internet which kept his Iowa "screech" available 24/7. Both are an exaggeration but it is a positive sign when every campaign includes someone knowledgeable about the Internet.

Or is it?

We took a poll from sellers in the top 10 U.S. markets and although there are some political dollars being spent in the online space, it is insignificant to the task at hand and won't come close to matching local TV spending.

My staff feels like Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day" (who has to repeat the same day over and over again) because once again they educate media buyers, this time, gun shy political volunteers, on the value of the Internet. It would be easy if we could offer some sort of CPV (cost-per-vote) model. That, they would understand.

What they don't seem to understand is how to use behavioral targeting to reach out to potential voters who reveal their interests with mouse clicks. It is not hard to gather user data on people who visit certain sites (or parts of sites) and target them with a campaign platform message that taps into their interests. This can be done on a regional basis to track with campaign appearances and parochial interests. How interesting would it be for voters to see video of a candidate speaking JUST on a subject close to their hearts?

Smart campaigners can use touch points from the Web to maintain a persistent dialogue with voters with messaging that seems to be far less obtrusive than telephone calls and far more effective than direct mail. With all those computer-savvy college-aged volunteers, I would think they'd be thrilled to interact with voters online. In the UK, the Labour party is considering giving Tony Blair a weblog as part of its attempt to make its general election campaign an "engaging dialogue with the British people."

I am heartened to see the campaigns using the web as part of their outreach strategy, but at this point am not convinced that it will translate into the big online ad dollars we all hoped it might. One cautionary note on selling online inventory to campaigns: they are notorious for not paying for media space if their candidate loses (and often, even if he/she wins).

Perhaps with some more education, we will see a significant uptick in the '06 congressional races and the '08 Presidential race.

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