Following months of TV ads supporting their mayor’s reelection campaign, New Yorkers were targets of an online ad onslaught from the Bloomberg campaign yesterday. The display ad attack represents how an innovative tactic introduced during the 2008 election is becoming a somewhat standard part of the online get-out-the-vote arsenal.
Voters were also caught in the ad targeting crosshairs yesterday when Republican candidate for Governor Bob McDonnell’s camp ran ads intended to hit as many voters in Virginia and Washington, D.C. as possible.
Both campaigns used the Google network blast, known to many in online political circles as the Google surge. The typical surge campaign involves serving display ads on behalf of a single advertiser on most of Google’s content network pages generated within a brief period of time to users in a specific geographic area.
The reason the last-minute ad tactic has become popular among candidate campaigns is because it mimics the late stage advertising they’ve grown accustomed to doing in traditional media. Mainly, because Google’s content network is so large, they are able to slam Web users in a particular region with ads intended to remind them to vote, and for whom.
“Choose Progress. Vote Mike Bloomberg. Independent. Mayor,” states a video-enabled ad spotted today in New York.
Ads seen yesterday from the McDonnell campaign present a simple, “Vote tomorrow” message.
Unlike most ads in Google’s content network, the network blast is sold direct from Google salespeople on a CPM basis, rather than the standard performance-basis. This buying process also adds a level of comfort for political ad buyers who purchase traditional media this way.
The promise of the surge is that advertisers can dominate a significant portion of Google’s network inventory seen by users in a specified area. But that doesn’t necessarily rule out advertising from political opponents targeted to the same locations.
For example, McDonnell’s Democratic opponent Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds also targeted Virginia voters through CPM display ads in Google’s network recently. Notably, the Deeds camp ran a full blown network blast leading up to Virginia’s gubernatorial primary in June. For that effort, the campaign spent over half of its online ad budget on Google display advertising that ran in a matter of hours.
According to a Google spokesperson, the use of the blast tactic by opposing campaigns is possible because the network has “more than enough available inventory.” Also, sometimes campaigns can run ads on different days. However, if the use of the tactic by political campaigns during the final days leading to elections becomes more prevalent, it is questionable whether Google will be able to accommodate increased demand for inventory in markets with tight races right before an election.
One of the first uses of the Google surge came before the 2008 election, when ProtectMarriage, an advocacy group supporting California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage, used the method. Not long after, in April, Democrat Scott Murphy’s winning special election campaign for New York’s 20th congressional seat employed the surge.
In addition to the Bloomberg and McDonnell ad barrages, Democrat Bill Owens’s campaign for New York’s 23rd District seat has run CPM-based display ads direct through Google recently, according to the company.