Healthcare reform could become the biggest political issue to generate online advocacy efforts since the 2008 election — bigger than the bailout, energy, defense, or other important matters. As national healthcare reform reaches a congressional milestone, groups on both sides of the issue with concerns about points from abortion rights to taxes have been running online advocacy ad campaigns in the hopes of building supporter lists and attracting donations. But, many with a stake in the fight aren’t ready to fire the big guns yet.
“We came out of the gate strong in terms of our advertising buys but we’ve also decided to hold some of that back to wait for some pivotal moments in the upcoming debate,” said National Women’s Law Center VP Communications Karen Schneider. The organization is focused exclusively on online advertising in its current public awareness campaign launched in late October, she said.
“Being a woman is not a pre-existing condition,” states the group’s expandable video ads seen on sites such as The Huffington Post. The ads go on to lament, “Health care isn’t fair. Women pay more for the same coverage.” The goal is to drive people to watch the video, visit the campaign site to learn about healthcare coverage disparities faced by women, and take action by contacting Congress.
In addition to video, the ads include links to contact Congress, buy a T-shirt, donate, and share information about the campaign. Facebook ads are driving the most referrals to the group’s campaign microsite — 12 percent — according to Schneider, who said the law center is also investing a small amount of its budget in search advertising.
Free market nonprofit group Center for Medicine in the Public Interest Advance (CMPI) is using display ads in its efforts against a public option for healthcare. “The public option opt-out is just a new name for the same baaaaaad idea,” declares an ad featuring animated sheep. “Don’t let congress pull the wool over your eyes. Learn the truth.”
The organization has been running the ads on sites including Politico, DrudgeReport, WashingtonPost.com, and WashingtonTimes.com for the last couple weeks in anticipation of the House’s vote on its reform bill, narrowly passed on Saturday. The ads link to an online sign up form and petition “to tell Congress that the ‘public plan’ is a poison pill for patients, doctors and the entire American health care system.”
Advertisers have been interested in targeting online ads based on their perceived stance on the public option, said Andy Hunn, COO of political ad network Resonate Networks.”Whether or not the public option is included has been a key targeting criteria that’s been interesting to people,” he said.
According to Hunn, whose network couples panel-based research with other data sources to surface online audiences with particular beliefs about issues, most interest in online healthcare reform advertising has come from trade associations, doctors’ groups, unions, and other advocacy organizations.
Keeping the Powder Dry
However, the online ad blitz around healthcare advocacy he expects is still percolating. “We’ve talked to about a dozen clients for whom we were already doing healthcare work…We know they want to spend related to healthcare reform, but they’re deliberately holding back right now…A phrase you hear around here a lot is people are keeping their powder dry,” he said, adding, “When it breaks open it’s number one.”
“Right now everybody’s just waiting to see if the Senate leaders go with what’s passed in the House,” said Mario Coluccio, managing director of CMPI. Still, in addition to its current ad campaign, the group has launched a series of campaign elements including an online game, to get its message across. Last week CMPI published a video poking fun at the House’s healthcare plan by spoofing the 1970’s Schoolhouse Rock! Classic animated short, “I’m Just a Bill.”
Once a bill is submitted in the Senate, added Coluccio, “We may make a decision to increase our ad runs.” Some of the organization’s online campaign has been developed in conjunction with D.C. consulting outfit Political Media, he said.
Liberal political news site Talking Points Memo has sold healthcare reform related ads targeting the Beltway as well as national audiences. Yet, TPM’s VP of Sales Diane Rinaldo suggested selling to some advocacy groups can be “more challenging than normal.” Because issues like healthcare tend to create coalitions of organizations with no evident leader or media buying decision maker, it comes down to “knowing who’s driving the strategy and who’s executing the media buy,” she said. “It’s not like they’re people who have never been on your radar before; it’s just they have never been on your radar in this [form].”
Both CMPI and conservative group Americans for Prosperity have used the “Hands Off” tagline, which inspired the popular “#handsoff” Twitter hash tag. Americans for Prosperity’s Patients First project is one of the larger online campaigns battling the Obama administration’s healthcare reform plans. The group’s online ad efforts, managed by 2008 McCain campaign consulting firm Connell Donatelli, are focused on Google search and content network display ads to prospect for like-minded supporters and push them to the JoinPatientsFirst.com Web site.
Petition Trend Still Popular
Several groups, from better-known party- and candidate-affiliated organizations to relative unknowns, are spending on search ads, targeting their messages to searches on terms like “Obamacare,” “single payer,” and “public option.”
“Say No to Government Run Health Care,” declares a Google ad from Conservatives for Patients Rights, which links to an online petition intended to help the group grow its supporter contact list. Another initiative, Take Back Medicine, a project of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, is also using search ads to promote its petition to “Fight ObamaHealth Care.” The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has also bought search ads to spur petition sign ups: “Fight Back Against Special Interests. Sign the Petition Today!”
In addition to the White House’s own online campaign to push President Obama’s healthcare agenda, his Democratic National Committee-run group Organizing for America has used search ads to encourage people to contact their congressional representatives as well as counteract “false claims.” One recent ad from OFA states, “Obama’s Health Care Plan Embraces Competition. Find Out More!”
Even some candidates for office are using the healthcare reform issue to drum up support for their re-election campaigns. Arizona Senator John McCain has used the issue to steer Google searchers to sign a petition on his re-election campaign site. Meanwhile, Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, a maverick from the other side of the aisle, has placed fundraising ads on sites including TPM that say, “The Republican health care plan is don’t get sick, but if you do, die quickly.”
Healthcare reform articles on Beltway sites like TheHill.com and Politico have displayed ads from Americans Against Food Taxes recently. Though the group’s broader mission is to stop tax increases on food and beverages, it is also invested in the healthcare debate; some lawmakers have suggested raising federal taxes on some foods and drinks to help pay for a new healthcare plan.
In an often fragmented workplace, where various departments have varying opinions and goals, it can be challenging to get everyone on the same page and make strategy meetings productive.
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