Undecided: What Was Digital's Impact on the Election?

November 5, 2008   |  Comments

Speakers at ad:tech NY weigh in on the influence of digital marketing in the 2008 elections.

Was Barack Obama's triumph in the U.S. presidential election determined by "Mad Men" or the "Next Gen?"

Jonathan Klein, president, CNN/U.S., addressed the question -- hours before the polls closed Tuesday -- at Ad:Tech NY, comparing Madison Avenue's old-style media buying approach to the next generation's use of broad-based interactive tools.

"No one has any idea who will be more effective in today's vote," Klein said during the keynote speech. Next-generation approaches included Barack Obama's use of text messages to announce his vice presidential candidate, while John McCain reportedly turned to Google to help him find a running mate.

Early Tuesday, it was still too soon to tell if digital marketing initiatives will turn out the next-gen vote. In Florida, Klein said, voters under the age of 35 represent 25 percent of the registered voters. In early voting, only 15 percent of those casting ballots were under 35. "We don't know how reliable young voters are. That's why text [messaging] is playing a crucial role today as we speak," he said, referring to get-out-the-vote messages delivered by campaigns.

CNN, for its part, is trying to straddle both worlds. "We want to attract the 'Mad Men' viewers and the next generation of views without alienating the 40-year-old and 50-year-old," he said.

A daily e-mail that provided political news updates -- once distributed internally to about CNN journalists and producers -- now appears on CNN's site as part of a blog called, Political Ticker.

CNN has also embraced user-generated content -- political and non-political -- inviting readers to submit news video, photos, commentary, and other content.

For the election, CNN established a voter hotline, inviting people to report problems found at polling places, such as difficulties getting access, missing absentee ballots, or broken equipment. Online, CNN has posted a map of the United States that's accompanied by a breakdown of the top reported problems.

When someone submits a news video or photo, CNN staff seeks to validate the content before its posted on CNN.com or televised. Videos or photos that cannot be validated may be posted instead at iReports.com.

Other speakers at ad:tech said all marketers are closely watching to see what impact digital political campaigns will have on election outcomes. "Obama and McCain have done a fantastic job of activating the digital media space," said Tina Sharkey, BabyCenter's global president.

Group M Interaction CEO Rob Norman said effective political campaigns underscore several points. "It shows that broad reach and high engagement is the center of [political] marketing," he said. And that's achieved by effectively factoring in geography, technology ("how people use it and how it fits into people's lives"), and integrity, he said.

David Morris, chief client officer at CBS Interactive, said media companies have prospered by interest in the political campaigns. "As a media professional, I would like to see this [campaign] go to the end of the year," he said.

As an American, Morris said he feels a little differently. "It's been two very long years of being sold to by multiple people," he said.

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