The New Jersey gubernatorial election is helping regional sites like NJ.com score political campaign cash. The site is host to ads from the race’s two main contenders, and has received interest from Republican and Democratic party organizations, However, while the election’s advertisers are newly willing to use online ads for things other than donations and signups, political Web advertising remains a tough sell for some local sites.
“The political advertising game is still a television game,” said Jim Hagaman, director, general advertising sales at NJ.com, where Governor Jon Corzine’s reelection campaign has been running display ads on and off since late June. “[Corzine] is probably the most significant entry we’ve had… We haven’t been able to break through on the scale that we want.” Republican hopeful Chris Christie also has placed ads on the site.
The site is offering opportunities to political advertisers that in the past have been used only by corporate advertisers. One of these is a sponsored blog on NJ.com, labeled as a “Paid political blog.”
“Having our content there is going to expose our message to people who may not otherwise see it,” said Juan Melli, director of new media for the Corzine campaign. The content of the blog closely resembles that of the official campaign blog. A recent post from Corzine’s running mate Loretta Weinberg included messaging similar to an e-mail call-to-action: “Will you join our cause? Please take a moment to sign up to volunteer at a Victory 09 campaign office today.”
Enlisting volunteers has been a recent goal, according to Melli, who said the campaign opened its field offices a few weeks ago, and now needs to fill them with volunteers to do outreach. Still, while recruiting volunteers and raising donations are typical goals of online political advertising, the Corzine camp has used its display and search ads primarily for awareness and persuasion. Display ads have been placed directly on sites such as NorthJersey.com, NYTimes.com, and Politicker’s New Jersey site. Ads have also run through the Google network and on Blogads network sites.
Some ads targeted to New Jerseyans are intended to inform voters of the Governor’s economic accomplishments. “He saw this national recession coming. So he did something about it. He passed the first in the nation economic recovery plan to protect our most vulnerable,” reads a current ad.
“The primary goal of these ads is to talk about what the governor has done…regarding the economy,” said Melli. The search ads have a similar mission, he added.
The Corzine camp takes an even less direct approach in ads spotted on sites like NewJerseyNewsRoom.com. A ticking “Christie FOIA Clock” is dynamically updated to reflect the days, hours, minutes, and seconds since the U.S. Attorneys office “has stonewalled release of documents.” Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Corzine camp is pushing for Christie to release information about meetings he had about a potential run for office while serving as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, a non-political position.
Christie’s campaign itself is focusing on jobs in its online ad messaging. Ads seen on NJ.com have declared, “187,000 jobs lost under Jon Corzine. Change Governors.”
But the Christie campaign also has support from the Republican Governors Association, which is running anti-Corzine search and display ads lamenting New Jersey’s deficit, and claiming Corzine “wants to raise taxes, again.” The ads link to an anti-Corzine site called JerseyPays.com.
Issue-based persuasion messaging has only recently been used by political campaigns online, and is usually reserved for their radio and TV advertising. Perception of how Web ads can be used for political campaigning is changing gradually. However, while the Internet is being used more and more for purposes similar to those of television, media buying decisions may be lagging behind.
“We’re not top of mind at that top level media mix planning,” said Hagaman. Until a digital ad budget is carved out along with TV and other media in the early planning stages, he suggested, it may be awhile before sites like NJ.com experience a true shift in their favor.
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