While Democratic Presidential hopefuls appeal to political junkies through blog ads, Republican Senator John McCain is using paid video ads, display placements and sponsored search text ads to stir interest, even before officially announcing his candidacy. The ’08 election season just might be the tipping point for paid online political advertising from the left and right, but the McCain effort demonstrates what some see as differing approaches to Web media by Republicans and Democrats.
“We’ve definitely seen more Republican activity, even for the [2006 election] state campaigns,” said Rob Clark, VP channel development for rich media ad firm PointRoll. “It seems to be more a part of their DNA,” he added.
The John McCain 2008 Exploratory Committee ran two PointRoll video ad creatives on AOL earlier this month, and will run similar campaigns in the future, said Clark. The ads featured one of three :30 videos presenting the potential candidate’s points of view. Users could submit contact information including physical and e-mail addresses within the ads, and link to a donation page on the campaign site. Besides acquiring donations, the ads were intended to “start the grassroots efforts…just to make sure they grow their database,” Clark continued.
“Be there from the start,” reads a small display ad running on conservative community and opinion site Townhall.com, which links to the McCain Exploratory site. The campaign is also running video ads in Google’s ad network.
“It’s all about the ROI,” said Eric Frenchman, chief Internet strategist at political consulting agency Connell Donatelli Inc., the firm handling the Internet components of the McCain campaign. “Obviously we’re getting branding and messaging out there at the same time,” he added.
Achieving ROI, or return on investment, may be a typical goal for most commercial advertisers; however, such terms remain foreign in the political sphere, where concepts like name recognition are more commonplace. Although commercial jargon may fall on deaf ears where political advertisers are concerned, Frenchman believes ROI is what counts. “That’s what it’s all about if you’re spending online advertising dollars,” he said.
“[Political advertisers] are used to speaking in human terms not product terms,” said Clark.
Democratic presidential primary candidates including former VP hopeful John Edwards and popular early rivals Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have placed ads on political blogs. In addition to attracting Democrats through left-leaning sites like MyDD, Clinton ads promoting a live Webcast last night have been spotted on right-wing sites such as Power Line.
Politicians and their campaigns have embraced the blogosphere, which is seen as an especially smart tactic for primary campaigns looking to score points with the proverbial “base.” Yet, Frenchman wonders whether relying solely on that segment of the broader Web audience is the way to go.
As he noted on his Pardon My French blog recently, Democratic candidates’ “heavy reliance on social media and the lack of advertising via standard online advertising or even search marketing,” confines those campaigns to a small, perhaps narrowly-focused audience. By “confining their online activities to heavy users of the blogosphere they could be missing out on extending their message to folks that just aren’t spending every minute toiling over blogs.”
The McCain campaign isn’t exactly neglecting blogs, though. It’s running sponsored text ads on Google, which feeds those keyword-driven ads to blogs and other sites in its AdSense network. Search terms including “McCain for President” and “2008 election” result in Google sponsored links for the McCain effort.
And, in truly political one-upsmanship, McCain-related keywords also turn up paid links promoting the Rudy Giuliani Presidential Exploratory Committee.