John Kerry was subject to Web attacks when he ran for president, and now the Democratic Massachusetts Senator's PAC is using Google ads to fight smears against Barack Obama. Rather than beg for online donations to buy TV ads -- a standard tactic of many a political campaign -- Kerry's leadership PAC has asked supporters outright to donate money to buying Google ads. The goal is to reach undecided voters curious about Obama's alleged connections to William Ayers, domestic terrorism, or socialist thought.
"Right now, so many people are looking for the truth about the McCain smears that our ads are only reaching less than half of them, " noted a recent e-mail sent by Kerry's Campaign for Our Country PAC. "We need to put more resources behind the truth so every single person looking for answers sees our link to the real story about Barack Obama, and clicks on that instead of a link to a smear from a rightwing site."
The PAC sent its first Google ad-related fundraising e-mail about two weeks ago. Messages have gone to people who have signed up to receive communications from the PAC, in addition to people on the John Kerry for Senate list. Even those who registered with Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign have been sent the message.
It's all part of the organization's broader effort to counteract negative Republican messages about Senator Obama. "Your donation by itself can make the difference in a close state like North Carolina, or Indiana, making sure some critical voters see the truth," suggested a recent e-mail.
The PAC clearly views its supporters as a Web savvy bunch, impressing upon them the difference between buying television ads and buying search ads. "This isn't like donating to run a television ad, where your donation goes into a pool of money," noted the e-mail. "If you give just $50, that will pay for 140 people who click through to our pages and see the truth."
Google searches for "Obama Ayers" and "Obama weathermen" turn up ads from the Kerry PAC. "Obama & Ayers Not Friends," declares one sponsored Google link. "Obama is not friends with William Ayers. Learn the truth & fight back," it continues. Obama has been linked by John McCain's campaign and others to William Ayers, co-founder of radical 70's-era group The Weathermen, which was accused of domestic bombings and rioting.
The ad links to TruthFightsBack.com, a site that "tracks, debunks, and counters the smears against Democrats." The site currently combats claims that Obama has connections to Islamic terrorists and is a socialist.
The site includes forms for submitting e-mail addresses to "stay informed," and for reporting smears. But the site's main goal is not to build a contact list. Rather, it's squarely aimed at informing undecided voters about the Democrats' side of the story, immediately before election day.
"In this final stretch, it's particularly important that political advertisers are online to set the record straight about their candidate and perhaps persuade remaining undecided voters," Google's head of political ad sales Peter Greenberger told ClickZ News.
Since the 2004 presidential primary season, the Web has been viewed as a virtual piggybank by political campaigns -- a place that's good enough to raise funds, but not necessarily a good enough place to spend that money. The Kerry effort is one of the first that's directly aimed at collecting money to use for online advertising, as opposed to TV.
"This kind of plea is different from the usual plea for funds in one important way," explained John Kerry for Senate Internet Director Brian Young, who also handles Web efforts for the PAC. "This was really asking Internet-based activists to support Internet-based activities, not looking to use the Internet to support the traditional activities of direct mail or broadcast media buys."
During the still-contentious primary season, the campaign for Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton also asked supporters to fund Web ads. "Help us recruit supporters and get out the vote in Pennsylvania with targeted online ads," suggested the official site back in April. The goal was to raise $2.5 million for TV ads and $100,000 for Web ads. Supporters supposedly were able to designate donations for ads on their medium or choice.
Borrell Associates VP of Research Kip Cassino has looked closely at political ad spending on and off the Web. Though he agrees today most political campaigns still use the Internet to garner donations for use toward other media, he expects that to change. Speaking with ClickZ News last week about the subject, he wondered, "If you take [online fundraising] a step further...why wouldn't it be better to contact [voters] on the Web as well?"
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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.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT