Early Online Political Ads Not Just for Raising Cash

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Who says political Web advertising is just for fundraising? Though insiders don’t expect many election season ad dollars to hit the Net before October, political candidates and advocacy groups already have begun funneling money online — and not just to raise cash for TV ads.

“The Pay Attention and Vote” public service announcement (PSA) campaign, launched in July, is hoping to get young voters out to the polls through audio podcast spots and an instant messenger promotion. The multimedia campaign targeting 18-24-year-olds was developed by Atlanta agency West Wayne in conjunction with The Advertising Council and the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP).

The PSA campaign, which relies entirely on donated ad time and space, also will push youth voting through an AOL Instant Messenger effort. AIM gabbers can change their messaging icon images to the campaign’s mock candidates who could be elected if young people don’t go to the polls, such as Spoiled Yappy Dog and Someone’s Teddy Bear.

“The mass media elements are all about breaking through and connecting with [the young] target,” West Wayne Account Director Will Thomson told ClickZ. “Ultimately the Web is where they get the information about [voter] registration and links to local campaigns and local officials…and also bring the campaign to life from a creative [perspective].”

According to Nielsen/NetRatings AdRelevance, over 10 million banner ad impressions have been served gratis for the campaign since August 13, the bulk of which have been placed on IMDb.com. Others have been served on Comics.com, ProWrestling.com, AskMen.com and others.

Besides display ads, the campaign has repurposed its radio spots as podcast ads that will run in eight podcasts on PodShow.com. Three of the podcast shows themselves will incorporate the campaign’s youth-targeted civic engagement message, according to Ellyn Fisher, director of corporate communications for The Ad Council.

This year’s campaign, said Fisher, “is the first to ever focus on a midterm election.” For the last few years, The Ad Council and the FVAP have been “targeting young adults…to increase civic engagement so people become lifelong voters,” she added. A ringtone-related effort may be in the works soon as well, she said.

Even groups pushing their positions on ballot proposition are using Internet ads to spread the word. For the past two weeks, Californians Against the Statewide Parcel Property Tax has run “No on Prop 88” ads on The San Diego Union-Tribune’s SignOn San Diego site, pushing their stance on the California’s Proposition 88, a November ballot item dealing with education funding.

In addition to run-of-site skyscraper units, the campaign has advertised in e-mail newsletters sent by SignOn San Diego on its behalf, according to Chris Jennewein, VP Internet operations for Union-Tribune Publishing Co. Another group promoting its stance on a separate California ballot proposition is also using the site’s e-mail ad services. About 5 percent of SignOn’s ad revenues come from the advertorial newsletters, said Jennewein.

New York Assemblyman and State Senate candidate Jeff Brown has used e-mail for years to keep in touch with constituents and supporters, Benedicte Doran, Citizens for Brown’s interactive campaign director, told ClickZ. An HTML e-mail newsletter recently sent by Citizens for Brown to a list of about 1,000 supporters put out a call for campaign booth volunteers at a Syracuse-area Barbeque held this past Saturday.

Brown’s campaign launched a series of online banners and Flash-based ads in August on local TV station sites, including Time Warner Cable’s News 10 Now and NBC’s WSTM.com. Ads started running on Advance Internet’s local newspaper site Syracuse.com, the online edition of The Post-Standard, in mid-August. The ads will run until the November election, according to Doran.

Brown said his campaign is allocating between 5 and 10 percent of its ad budget to online efforts, in the hopes of steering young people to his site to learn more about his platform. Online fundraising, on the other hand, “has not been a significant portion of our effort,” he said.

Achieving the kind of momentum that fueled the online cash grab most closely associated with Howard Dean’s 2004 Democratic Presidential primary campaign “is very difficult to duplicate at a race at our level,” Brown said.

According to Nielsen/NetRatings, the campaign ran 285,000 impressions during the week ending September 3. “We’ve been able to get a ton of impressions very inexpensively,” said Doran. “I think we’re getting a great bang for our buck.”

“The main objective is to reach an audience that…doesn’t get the newspaper, and they just read online. It’s another way to get in front of people,” Doran said.

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