GOP Outguns Dems Online in Congressional Races

ClickZ News - Politics & AdvocacyWashington, D.C.– Republican congressional candidates are outgunning their Democratic counterparts, at least in one arena: online advertising.

Consultants on the right and left, along with digital media sellers, say Republican House candidates are serious about using Web ads and other online efforts this midterm election season. They suggest key factors include the desire to take back the majority in that chamber, complacency among Democrats, and even attitudes among party leadership.

“Republicans are throwing the gauntlet down,” said Andrew Roos, account executive, AdWords, Google elections and issue advocacy, speaking during a panel on online ad targeting at the Politics Online conference in Washington, D.C. this morning.

Brian Rosenberg, senior account executive at Cox Cross Media, pegs the GOP-to-Democrat House candidate ratio at 3 to 1. He’s getting calls from Republican media buying agencies that are sending out proposals for primary campaigns. Rosenberg chalks it up, at least in part, to an “underdog” mentality among GOP candidates.

“They’re realizing this is a medium that really has not been utilized much…now in this midyear election cycle, we’re seeing a lot more,” he said. Rosenberg said some Republican congressional and gubernatorial campaigns expect to spend as much as $9 million on online advertising.

Digital campaign consultants serving candidates on both sides of the aisle affirm the trend. Republican Matthew Dybwad, partner at Craft Media Digital, a consultancy serving Republican campaigns, suggested that because they hold the majority in the House, congressional Democrats are less compelled to make sure they’re at the top of their digital games. He also implied that Republican party leaders have stressed the importance of using online ads, and the Web in general.

Some say the disparity is more perceived than actual. One online ad seller at the conference told ClickZ News his firm isn’t seeing more interest from Republicans; rather, the GOP has thought leaders who are more vocal about the need to invest in Internet campaigns.

Yet even those working with Democratic campaigns say the trend is real. Though he stresses that top tier Democratic races on the left – including Senate campaigns – are willing to invest in online efforts, the same is not true of Democratic House candidates, said Josh Koster, partner at Chong + Koster. The traditional media buying hierarchy in both parties is a factor, he said. For instance, Republicans have a history of spending money on direct mail for fundraising, and have embraced the use of performance-based online advertising for that very purpose.

“Digital paid media intrinsically makes more sense to [direct] mail guys right away,” and many older Republican media execs specialize in direct mail, explained Koster. On the other hand, most big Democratic media buying outfits specialize in TV buying. “At least the more junior varsity TV firms are more scared of digital media, and on the left it’s the TV firms running the show,” he said.

Koster also pointed to recent special election campaigns won by Republicans in which the Web played a key role, including Scott Brown’s 2010 Senate campaign. “The right has had a couple of really well run special election campaigns recently and so, they did this, and now it’s become standard practice because their victories had a heavy component of [paid digital media].”

In the end, added Koster, “To some extent it just comes down to incumbent candidates tend to run very safe campaigns and safe campaigns tend not to innovate, particularly in the early part of the cycle where they’re trying to pretend they’re not running for reelection yet.”

He continued, “I think that will change by the end of the cycle to some extent.”

Follow Kate Kaye on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.

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