McCain Camp Spent Fraction of Obama's Online Ad Budget

  |  November 17, 2008   |  Comments

The McCain campaign spent just over $1.5 million on Web media, mostly on Google search ads.

ClickZ_Campaign08_katefinal.jpgAs John McCain's interactive campaign is called disorganized and disconnected by some Monday morning quarterbacks, one thing's for sure. The Republican hopeful's Web team spent far less on online advertising than the Obama camp.

The McCain campaign spent just over $1.5 million on Web media, according to data representing campaign 2008 expenditures into September. Obama's campaign spent around $8 million in '08 as of October.

McCain's Federal Election Commission reports are cryptic when it comes to Web media spending, though online media expenditures are indicated in payments made to CD Inc., otherwise known as Connell Donatelli. The interactive marketing agency, which handles digital strategies for Republican campaigns, took in about $1.7 million in revenues from the McCain campaign. After subtracting around 10 percent for creative fees and ad serving related payments, the remaining $1.53 million, ClickZ News estimates, went towards online media buys for display and search advertising.

Both the Obama and McCain campaigns have yet to report all expenditures to the FEC, and additional online ad related payments are expected to appear in subsequent reports.

Unlike the Obama campaign, the McCain camp did not break out individual online ad related expenditures in those reports, so it's unclear just how much went where. However, ClickZ News has gathered that paid search was the focal point of the McCain camp's online advertising, and spending on Google accounted for a significant portion of that spending. The campaign also bought search advertising on MSN and Yahoo.

Google's AdSense network also scored McCain display ad money, as did networks like Valueclick, Yahoo-owned Right Media, and AOL's and its behavioral targeting network Tacoda.

Google was by far the clear winner of online campaign ad dollars in the 2008 election. In addition to the hundreds of thousands in McCain campaign funds that most likely ended up there in 2008 alone, Hillary Clinton's primary campaign spent around $300,000 on Google in 2007 and 2008 -- at least 50 percent of all Clinton's online ad spending -- according to ClickZ's calculations. Through October 2008, Obama for America spent $3.5 million with Google, ClickZ estimates.

The McCain camp often targeted search and display ads geographically to important states, counties and congressional districts. The primary goal of all its ads was fundraising, though e-mail list-building through online petition signups and surveys often fueled donations. Search ads also were used to attract people to campaign events, though once Sarah Palin was chosen as Senator McCain's VP nominee, there was little need to woo event attendees. The Alaska Governor was a draw all on her own.

While nearly all of Obama's display advertising shared standard messaging, a consistent color-scheme, and a ubiquitous "Join Us" call-to-action, McCain's display ad efforts were far more scattered. Many used an issue-oriented approach to get supporters to provide e-mail addresses or donate. They focused on pork-barrel spending, the War in Iraq, or Clinton- and Obama-attacks.

McCain's lower online ad spending, in comparison to that of the Obama campaign, was certainly a result of a smaller overall budget. In its acceptance of public funding, McCain's campaign was beholden to regulations hindering his fundraising capabilities. Obama's campaign, on the other hand, did not receive public funding, and the candidate's popularity helped him collect record amounts.

Still, some campaign observers also chalk up McCain's lack of online ad spending to an overall disconnected approach to interactive campaigning. While Obama's digital marketing efforts, including search and display advertising, were viewed as consistent in message and well-integrated with the offline campaign, McCain's digital efforts were seen as more separate from the overall strategy, relegated to their own silo.


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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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