(As always, if you're not interested in politics, feel free to read the column replacing the word "candidate" with the word "brand.")
Consider me shocked. I hadn't heard any official stats on what candidates were spending online this campaign, but I assumed it had to be quite a bit. So imagine my surprise when I hear on talk radio that of the massive amount of money candidates are spending this election, only about 1% will be spent online (problem with radio is that I don't have a link, so if someone can find one to this information, I will make sure it goes here). As if all the hype around every candidate having their social networking pages wasn't enough, consider this: Barak Obama has reported that approximately 90% of his campaign contributions (accounting for about 50% of funds) have been small donations ($100 or under), most of which were generated ONLINE. And still candidates' organizations can only find a way to dedicate 1% of budget to a medium that is obviously changing the way people form opinions, discuss and interact with politicians.
The advertising opportunities for candidates -- given contextual, behavioral and social media technologies -- are astounding. Imagine contextually placing informational ad units next to relevant discussions or topics, leading to custom landing pages where people would be able to read about a candidate's position on the topic or issue.
Just to check, I did a pretty simple (re: unscientific) test. I searched on Google for the words and phrases below, to see if any candidate had purchased any of them as key words -- and if they had, what landing page they brought the searcher to. Keep in mind these are the top issues among voters, according to every poll I have seen.
· The Economy - No candidates purchased this keyword
· Fixing the economy - No candidates purchased this keyword
· Recession - No candidates purchased this keyword
· Iraq - No candidates purchased this keyword
· Terrorism - No candidates purchased this keyword
· Healthcare - No candidates purchased this keyword
· Medicare - No candidates purchased this keyword
· Taxes - No candidates purchased this keyword
· Barack Obama - Obama campaign purchased - Click through to main page
· Barack Obama war on terror - No candidates purchased this keyword or phrase
· Barack Obama Economy - Obama campaign purchased - Click through to main page (no info on Barack's economic policy)
· Barack Obama Mortgage Crisis - Obama Campaign purchased - Click through to main page (no info on Barack's plan to ease the mortgage crisis)
I get the feeling I could go on forever with this. The last couple look pretty bad for the Obama campaign, in terms of planning an appropriate message and experience for people who are obviously looking for information about the candidate and his plans/stances on certain issues -- but that's until you see that other than for his name, John McCain doesn't show up in the paid results for any combination of "John McCain" and top issues.
Two major problems here. First, sure the organic search results are filled with places for people to go get information from other sources, but wouldn't you want the opportunity to answer the people yourself if you knew they were asking a specific question about you? Second, and far more important, these candidates are missing the opportunity to have tailored messages, directing people to custom landing pages on the issues appearing all over the Web, through Google's AdSense network. And before you go thinking this is an ad for Google, to me this simply demonstrates that candidates haven't even taken the first step; forget the infinite possibilities with display through behavioral networks. One image/message delivered to active youth, and another delivered to baby boomers, both linking through to different landing pages most relevant to each. One image/message delivered to people who had visited an employment site in the past couple weeks, another delivered to those who have been looking at new homes, again leading to very different landing pages.
And I think we all know that just having a social network profile does not make a social media campaign. But in the interest of time, we will save that issue for its own Spin next week.
If you have been following what these candidates have been raising, you know it's certainly not an issue of money. But there is a fair amount of blame that falls on the ad networks and online media properties not making it easier to buy. While brands have time to test and learn, campaigns are in very compressed time cycles. Contextual and behavioral ad networks need to make it easy for them. Candidates have certainly learned how to pull money out of online interactions. Now if they could only figure out how to get a return on putting money back into online.