Google Grabbed Most of Obama's $16 Million in 2008

  |  January 6, 2009   |  Comments

The big names in online media, including several ad networks, collected the bulk of Obama campaign cash; McCain's campaign spent far less than Obama's.

ClickZ_Campaign08_katefinal.jpg Barack Obama's presidential campaign spent over $16 million on online advertising in 2008. John McCain's camp spent a fraction of that: around $3.6 million.

Google was far and away the winner, taking in an estimated $7.5 million of Obama ad dollars in 2008, about 45 percent of the campaign's digital ad spending, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Some of that money went toward display and text ads in Google's AdSense network, and some was used for ads appearing in search results on Google's site.

The big names in online media, including several ad networks, collected the bulk of the campaign's online ad expenditures. However, the disparity in spending on Google compared to all other media firms became more apparent as the campaign filed FEC reports on spending in the final weeks of the election season. The second highest earner of Obama campaign dollars was Yahoo, which was paid $1.5 million in 2008 for display and search ads. Microsoft and AOL also collected ad money from the campaign.

Like the McCain campaign and some 2008 primary campaigns, Obama's digital ad team relied heavily on online ad networks offering performance-based advertising and various means of targeting, such as geographic, behavioral, and demographic. AOL-owned took in nearly $1 million from the campaign in '08. Other networks that scored big were Pulse 360, Interclick, Quigo, Collective Media, Pontiflex, and Undertone Networks.

Local media was clearly important to the campaign. Throughout the election, hundreds of thousands were spent on local media sites. Local media company Centro, which took in $1.3 million from the campaign, facilitated many of those local ad buys. The $100,000 paid to Cox Communications by the Obama camp in 2008 also most likely was used for local online advertising, and cross-media buys on TV and TV station Web sites.

The Obama camp got a lot of attention for its online social networking prowess, and paid advertising helped to fuel success on Facebook. The campaign spent $643,000 on Facebook ads in 2008. Although the campaign also bought ads on other social sites including Community Connect's, and MySpace, Facebook came out on top in the social networking department.

Obama for America also grabbed headlines through its use of in-game advertising. The campaign bought $94,000 worth of ads -- mainly early voting ads -- in several online games through Microsoft's in-game ad network Massive.

Individual Web sites including, Politico, Time, BET Digital, and The Weather Channel also were top earners of Obama's online ad dollars. And, although the campaign did not report spending on blogs during most of the election season, recent FEC filings show $149,000 was paid to Blogads and its owner, Pressflex, possibly for early voting and get-out-the-vote ads in the final weeks before the election.

In September and October, the Obama campaign ratcheted up online ad spending quite a bit, paying millions for Web ads in October alone. Not only did the campaign boost the amount of ads placed in those last few weeks to promote early voting, voter registration, and voting on election day, the price of search ads also probably rose as the election drew near. Competition for election-related keywords increased in the last weeks, raising the cost of search ads sold by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and others.

As the last FEC reports trickle in, additional online media expenditures by the McCain campaign have also popped up. So far, those reports indicate around $3.6 million went toward online advertising via Connell Donatelli, the campaign's online media consulting firm. The McCain camp and its fundraising committees did not report individual media expenditures.

The Republican and Democratic National Committees both bought online advertising for their respective presidential candidates, and other candidates. Yet, it isn't clear how much money the political parties spent on Web advertising specifically supporting the presidential candidates.

Check out ClickZ's Campaign '08 Ad Galleries featuring display advertising from the Obama and McCain campaigns!

UPDATE: This story was updated to note Interclick was among the top paid ad networks by the Obama campaign in 2008, earning approximately $222,000 in 2008.

Top Recipients of Obama Campaign
Online Media Spending in 2008
Media Company Estimated Amount Paid
Google $7,500,000
Yahoo $1,500,000
Centro $1,300,000 $947,000
Facebook $643,000
Turner Broadcasting/ $461,000
Microsoft $405,000
AOL $313,000
Interclick $222,000
Pulse 360 $222,000
Quigo $195,000
Collective Media $168,000
Politico $151,000
Blogads $149,000
Time $147,000
BET Digital $138,000
Pontiflex $137,000
Washington Post $125,000
Undertone Networks $110,000
The Weather Channel $108,000

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Kate Kaye

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.

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