Barack Obama's presidential campaign continued its online spending spree in May. The campaign spent over $329,000 on online ads that month, according to its most recent spending report. The biggest Web media expenditures indicate the campaign is continuing its performance-based ad strategy, in addition to spending on local media and social networking sites.
Though in previous months Google was the primary recipient of the Illinois Senator's cash, the search king saw far less this time around -- $21,000 -- Federal Election Commission data shows. His campaign spent over $2 million on Google between January and April. As previous reports suggest, additional May expenditures most likely will appear in subsequent reports. Yahoo, another major recipient of Obama's spending earlier this year, was also missing from the list of May expenditures.
|Estimated Online Ad Expenditures by Obama for America, May 2008|
|Media Firm||Amount Paid|
|Source: FEC data compiled by ClickZ News|
While Microsoft's MSN garnered only $83,000 all together between January and April, the site saw the biggest payout of all media firms by Obama for America in May, around $62,000. Through its ownership of aQuantive, Microsoft also received about $24,500 paid to aQuantive's DrivePM performance-based ad network.
Following the online ad strategy that has guided it throughout the 2008 election season, the Obama campaign ran direct-response oriented ads, many of which appear to have been purchased on a cost-per-action basis. Like Republican Senator John McCain's presidential campaign, Obama's Web ad efforts seem to be intended almost solely to collect signups from potential volunteers and donors. McCain's FEC reports do not provide data on specific media buys, preventing a comparison to Obama's online ad spending.
Obama's campaign did purchase ads on an impression-basis in May. It spent $54,000 on CNN.com and $30,000 on Politico for CPM-based ads. Those buys were a validation and amplification of earlier strategies. Between January and April, it spent $24,000 on CNN.com and $36,000 on Politico.
Online political ad consultants agree, at this stage of the election season, both the Obama and McCain camps are measuring their online display and search ads on a cost-per-acquisition basis, whether or not they're purchased that way.
"The goal of a campaign is to sign people up and convert them to donors and volunteers," said Kari Chisholm, president of progressive Internet political strategy firm Mandate Media. "So, you're ultimately going to evaluate your investment on a cost-per-acquisition basis." In other words, the Obama and McCain campaigns, as well as other savvy candidate and advocacy campaigns, often base online ad success on the number of volunteer and donor acquisitions they collect.
"The Obama campaign has been at this long enough and has enough data to understand how much it wants to pay [per acquisition]," Chisholm added.
The campaign's social networking site buys in May are another indication of past success. While it spent $47,000 on Facebook between January and April, that site saw nearly $36,000 in May from the candidate. Community Connect, publisher of ethnic and lifestyle-oriented social networks, received just $5,000 in those previous months, and over $37,000 in May alone.
While the Obama camp most likely is trying to reach specific demographic groups on Community Connect, the Facebook buys suggest it is going after low-hanging fruit by targeting ads to members of Obama-related Facebook groups. After appearing in previous months, MySpace was missing from Obama's FEC report line items in May.
"Clearly the goal of advertising on social networks is to acquire more supporters," affirmed Chisholm. "The strategy that campaigns should follow online is a strategy of finding new, committed supporters at this point in the election cycle."
Though it's unclear exactly how much of it went to local Web sites, the campaign's May payments of $64,500 to local media buying firm Centro show its continued dedication to buying local media such as newspaper Web sites. In addition, many of Obama's ads purchased through Google, Yahoo and ad networks have been geo-targeted to residents of particular primary states.
"During the Oregon primaries, [Oregon users] couldn't go anywhere [online] without seeing an Obama ad," said Chisholm, a resident of the state. "It was pretty clear that whatever they were bidding in Google's real-time auction was outbidding every other advertiser."
Observers can expect to see ads from Obama and McCain geographically-targeted to users in highly-contested states through the remainder of the election.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.