A Google ad tactic used by winning political campaigns on the right and left is becoming less and less rare. This Monday and Tuesday, the so-called Google surge or blast played a significant role — at least financially — in the digital campaign for Virginia’s winning Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate, State Senator Creigh Deeds.
The campaign spent over half of its online ad budget on Google display advertising that ran over a matter of hours.
Like other Google surges, the effort involved serving up ads on behalf of a single advertiser on most or all of the Google content network pages generated within a brief period in a specific geographic area. The Deeds camp ran ads during a small window — after 3 p.m. Monday through Tuesday until polls closed at 7 p.m.
“Basically this Google bomb was just a continuation of Deeds’s aggressive online campaign he’s been doing for a year,” said Kyle Osterhout, partner at Media Strategies, the Democratic political buying agency that handled the camp’s online, TV, and radio efforts.
Deeds ran display and search ads targeted to people throughout Virginia for two months leading up to yesterday’s primary. However, the last-minute Google ads were intended for Northern Virginian eyes only. Deeds was endorsed by The Washington Post, and the campaign believed that endorsement would carry more weight with Northerners, said Osterhout.
During the 28-hour Google blast, about 8.8 million ad impressions ran, and were clicked around 3,000 times. Like many display ad efforts, the click-through rate was tiny. But Get-Out-the-Vote campaigns like this one are not necessarily driven by online action: they’re meant to get people to go out and vote.
In addition, they’re often aimed at persuasion. “The goal was to push to primary voters that Deeds was the candidate that was endorsed The Washington Post,” Osterhout told ClickZ News. Television ads mirrored that message. According to Osterhout, the campaign team plans to analyze ad performance according to Web site, ad size, and placement “to try to pinpoint what exactly worked the best.”
“Creigh Deeds ‘has the character, experience and savvy to be a successful leader of the entire commonwealth’,” noted one ad seen in those final days. Another stated, “The Washington Post Endorsed Only One Democrat. Creigh Deeds.” Both told people to vote.
The two-day ad onslaught also targeted Washington, DC during business hours, in the hopes of reaching Northern Virginians at work. An earlier Google blast by Scott Murphy, Democratic candidate and winner of New York’s 20th congressional district special election, also targeted voters on the outskirts of the targeted district to find them at work.
Democrats have clearly caught on to this new campaign tool, yet among the first political organizations to employ the Google surge was one representing conservative ideals. As part of its lauded digital campaign, ProtectMarriage, an advocacy group supporting California’s Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage there, covered sites in Google’s content network with display ads targeted geographically to Californians. An insider from that campaign likened it to carpet bombing, the aim of which was to persuade voters and get them to the polls.
The Deeds camp started its digital strategy about a year ago, building its presence on social sites such as Facebook, and later Twitter. Unlike some other politicians using Twitter, Deeds posts are casual; many have been apolitical and strewn with references to music artists from Gram Parsons and Neil Young to Radiohead. Deeds also ran search ads during his primary campaign, as did Virginia’s other Democratic primary candidates — former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe and former Virginia House of Delegates member Brian Moran — and GOP candidate Bob McDonnell.
Ads placed during the two-month period before election day were more issue-based, many focusing on education. The campaign worked with a Google account exec to put together a package of progressive sites to target such as DemocraticUnderground.com, Talking Points Memo, The Raw Story, and Air America; those ads were aimed to all Virginians.
Google’s sales team has been pitching political consultants and campaign staffers about its offerings, including the blast, in which some politicos have been particularly interested. Non-political advertisers such as Papa Johns have also used the tactic for limited-time promotions.