Gubernatorial Candidates Get in Web State of Mind

House and Senate campaigns aren’t the only ones heating up. Gubernatorial races are getting down to the wire, too, and some are using the Web as a strategic component of their campaigns. Video ads, search and voter-generated ad contests are among the more innovative means of sparking interest and reaching voters who aren’t glued to the TV. But for some, as November 7 nears, the Web becomes less and less important.

“Colorado is just a big state,” said Evan Dreyer, spokesman for the Bill Ritter for Governor campaign. “To try to get everyone covered we decided to do some online advertising rather than straight print advertising, to start to generate recognition.” The campaign has run ads since early this summer on sites including The Coloradoan‘s Web presence, that of The Durango Herald, RockyMountainNews.com and DenverPost.com, according to Dreyer.

Running as an independent alongside cult hero Kinky Friedman and a handful of other opponents vying for the big seat in Texas, Carole Keeton Strayhorn is linking expandable, interactive video ads to her OneToughGrandma.com site. Some of the PointRoll banners feature additional video upon rollover; others include a poll, volunteer sign up or link to donate within the expanded unit. The campaign is running ads on Austin’s Statesman.com and its related network sites, as well as MyWestTexas.com, Dallas’s NBC5i.com, Houston Chronicle’s Chron.com, Click2Houston.com, MySanAntonio.com and others.

Strayhorn’s Republican opponent and incumbent Governor Rick Perry is running Flash-based video ads repurposed from TV spots on Statesman.com, according to Jeff Friedman, the site’s online sales manager. Both Strayhorn’s and Perry’s efforts started around September, he added.

Eric Frenchman, video ad proponent and CTO at political marketing agency Connell Donatelli said the campaign for Michigan Republican candidate Dick DeVos began testing its online ads in the beginning of the year. The campaign is running PointRoll video banners on ClickOnDetroit.com, CitySearch.com, MLive.com, The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press.

Though it can take some coaxing, getting a candidate to agree to run an online video ad “comes down to how comfortable they are with online,” said Frenchman, adding, “It just sounds scary when it comes from going from not doing anything online to streaming your TV ad online.” According to Connell Donatelli, the DeVos video banners, which allow users to subscribe to campaign e-mails and donate, garnered more than 1,200 hours of interaction as of September 27.

The DeVos campaign appears amenable to moving beyond tried and true approaches. Taking a cue from a multitude of commercial campaigns, the candidate’s site features a “Create Your Own DeVos for Governor Video Contest,” and asks supporters to “Use any content, television ads, press releases, websites, you name it…to create your own DeVos for Governor video.” The prize, of course, is a Video iPod, in addition to having the voter-generated ad “featured” by the campaign.

The DeVos effort also involves a “very, very, in-depth” geo-targeted search campaign, buying search keywords like “Michigan Weather,” Frenchman told ClickZ News.

Democratic candidate Ritter isn’t doing much of anything by way of search advertising, said Dreyer. However, the campaign is taking advantage of social networking favorites MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, as well as keeping in touch with bloggers and sending lots of e-mail newsletters. The campaign makes an effort to post all new video snippets on YouTube, and started building its MySpace and Facebook networks this summer. “One of the people who spearheaded that is Bill Ritter’s 20-year-old son,” noted Dreyer.

Paid online media buys are on their way out for the Ritter campaign as election day looms. In recent weeks, Ritter’s Web ad buy has been whittled down to the news sections of RockyMountainNews.com and DenverPost.com, according to Dreyer, who said a complete phase-out is imminent. From here on, the “strategy in its entirety shifts away from [newspapers] — via the actual printed edition or site — and moves largely to broadcast,” he said. “Maximizing resources dictates placing all available dollars to broadcast,” added Dreyer.

Down south in The Lone Star State, however, Austin-based Statesman.com expects the Strayhorn and Perry campaigns to stick with Web ads till the election, according to Friedman. He chalks it up to Austin’s Web savvy residents, noting, “This is one of the most high-tech markets in the country…just about everyone’s online.”

Other gubernatorial campaigns that have put money towards Web ads this season include failed GOP primary contender for Arizona Governor, Don Goldwater, nephew of the polarizing Barry Goldwater. As tracked by Nielsen/NetRatings AdRelevance, the candidate ran ads on an array of far-flung sites such as OrlandoSentinel.com, Phoenix’s azfamily.com, New York Post Online and baltimoresun.com. In addition, Republican candidate for California Lieutenant Governor and current State Senator Tom McClintock has run ads recently on NewsMax, according to AdRelevance.

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