Republican Meg Whitman has spent a record amount of money on her campaign for California governor, and by the look of things, her large budget is not reserved for TV only. The Meg Whitman For Governor 2010 camp has been running innovative ad creative and placements on sites like Pandora, in addition to the standard Google AdWords and Facebook ad buys.
Though only glimpses of her campaign's online ad strategy have emerged, Meg Whitman's run for California governor could become a unique case study in the emerging practice of digital politics. Not only is Whitman's campaign fueled by personal wealth, the candidate comes from a tech industry background and needs to reach tech-savvy and targeted voting groups across one of the largest states in the U.S., all factors that make the campaign ripe for digital media experimentation.
"Because of her experience at eBay and in Silicon Valley, she knows how important online advertising is, especially because you can target specific audiences," said Whitman campaign spokesperson Darrel Ng. "So, at the outset we knew there would be a significant push through online advertising for the campaign." The most prominent of Whitman's many corporate executive roles was as CEO of eBay.
"It depends on what the strategic needs are at that moment but [online advertising] is something that we've been employing throughout the majority of the campaign," continued Ng.
California visitors to streaming music site Pandora, for instance, are greeted with a large wallpaper-style ad featuring a photo of a beaming Whitman standing in a field of high grass, a farm painted with stars and stripes in the background.
"Meg Whitman has a plan to rebuild California. Elect Meg," states the ad, reminding people to vote on November 2.
Whitman is not the first political candidate to run integrated creative on Pandora. In 2008, just before the presidential election, Obama for America targeted voters in battleground states with a branded the Pandora interface.
Digital ad efforts are developed by the campaign's online strategy staff. In addition, the Whitman camp works with Republican media buying firm Smart Media Group.
Though according to Ng, many of the Whitman campaign's online ads are banners, the Pandora effort appears to be indicative of a willingness to develop high quality creative for premium placements - something still rare among political advertisers. For instance, in September, the campaign ran a pop-up interstitial on the San Francisco Chronicle's SFGate featuring a 60-second length TV ad, according to a political media source in California.
The campaign also included roadblock ads and pre-roll video ads, according to the source, who suggested that Republican candidates often don't advertise in San Francisco because of the majority of voters there lean liberal.
Ng declined to provide more information about the SFGate ads, and wouldn't share much detail about how the Whitman campaign is targeting specific audiences online, nor about goals of the ads. "We use our online advertising to complement our TV advertising, so often we run campaigns in parallel," he told ClickZ News. "If we have a TV ad talking about Meg's plan to create [millions] of jobs…we make sure our online ads reflect that," added Ng.
Whitman's campaign hit a snag recently. The candidate is attempting to thwart allegations involving an undocumented immigrant who worked as Whitman's housekeeper for several years. It is unclear whether the campaign will address the allegations via online advertising. However, the official campaign site does feature several documents intended to fight the allegations.
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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.