Local Candidates Use Web Ads to Gain Support Locally and Nationally

ClickZ_Campaign08_katefinal.jpgOregon Senator Ron Wyden has a secure seat on Capitol Hill until 2010, but his Senate campaign has paid for online ads running now to push his healthcare plan. Wyden is among a handful of local and statewide politicians running Web ads to build contact lists, foster name recognition, and generate campaign funds. Some are using the Web not only to reach potential constituents in their own states, but people across the country.

“It’s a bit innovative to use campaign money to actually try and do marketing and promotion around a major policy initiative for Congress,” suggested Kari Chisholm, president of Internet political strategy outfit Mandate Media, the firm that produced the creative for Wyden’s Web ads.

“Take your job and shove it. But keep your health care…here’s how,” read display units seen on progressive political blogs like Talking Points Memo, in addition to Oregon blogs and healthcare-focused blogs. About 50,000 ad impressions from the campaign showed up on OregonLive in April, as tracked by Nielsen Online AdRelevance. According to Chisolm, the campaign also did “a lot of paid, sponsored e-mail,” sending sponsored messages to subscribers to newsletters from liberal media outlets including The Nation and Air America.

“What Senator Wyden is doing, of course, is trying to promote his healthcare plan,” explained Chisolm, who said display and search ads for the effort are intended to drive traffic to a Web-only video. Taking a jab at Ronald Reagan’s iconic “Morning in America” campaign ads, the tongue-in-cheek clip suggests Wyden’s universal healthcare plan will enable people in dead end jobs to seek rewarding work while maintaining access to healthcare services.

However, the campaign has a purpose beyond promoting the health initiative: to acquire names for the Democratic Senator’s contact list. “Presumably in 2010 he’s going to reach out to all the people who’ve supported his efforts,” said Chisolm.

merkley.jpgHoping to sit alongside Wyden in the U.S. Senate next year is recent Oregon Democratic Senate nominee Jeff Merkley. “Who supports Jeff Merkley for U.S. Senate? Oregon Progressives & Democrats,” declared an ad prompting users to “Join Us!” Online ads for Democratic Presidential hopeful Barack Obama have the same rallying cry.

Mandate Media is also behind the Merkley ads. About 10 days before last week’s Oregon primary, the campaign geotargeted display ads through Google’s AdSense network to Oregon residents. Ads were placed on sites such as CNN, WashingtonPost.com, local Oregon TV station sites, and alternative weekly paper sites.

San Diego City Councilman Scott Peters, a candidate for city attorney, also took a local approach to ad targeting in his aim to grab San Diego’s city attorney position. Ads seen on San Diego Union Tribune’s SignOnSanDiego.com claimed the Democrat will restore “Trust, Integrity, Professionalism.”

Republican Butch Conway, sheriff of Georgia’s Gwinnett County, also used local online ads seen on Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s AJC.com in April to promote his re-election campaign. Other local candidates who ran online display ads in April according to AdRelevance include Virginia’s Mark Warner, Democratic candidate for Senate; Mike Goebel, Democratic county councilman from Indiana’s Vanderburgh County; and Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions.

kleeb.jpgNot all local candidates are targeting locally, though. Democratic Senate hopeful from Nebraska Scott Kleeb sports a cowboy hat and denim in ads that ran on nationally-read sites like The Huffington Post and leftie blog DailyKos before his state’s May 13 primary.

“We wanted to make sure we did everything we could…to use that primary as an opportunity to build our team and our community,” Nebraskans for Kleeb communications director Joe Zepecki told ClickZ News. Like many online political or advocacy efforts, the campaign used the ads to raise awareness, drive site traffic, generate sign ups and garner donations.

“No campaign should look at online users as an ATM and we certainly don’t. What we’re trying to do is drive people to this Web site to engage them in this campaign and their community,” stressed Zepecki, noting that fundraising and list building are “byproducts of driving traffic and getting people invested.” The ads are part of the campaign’s overall approach to using the Web to foster interest among Nebraskans as well as people from around the country who believe in Kleeb’s brand of politics, he said.

“You all remember Scott Kleeb, America’s favorite cowboy,” noted John Aravosis on national Democratic activist blog ActBlue. “Scott is a good Democrat, and about as good of one as we’ll ever have in a red state like Nebraska. So please give him your support,” he continued. On his own national liberal politics site AmericaBlog, Aravosis lists Kleeb among a short list of candidates worthy of donations.

Certainly the Web has enabled increased nationalization of local candidates, and relatively inexpensive ways to promote them to a national audience which far less feasible in traditional media. However, running national ads for a local candidate isn’t always recommended.

Mandate Media’s Chisolm isn’t sold on the idea. “Unless you’re a top tier race, it probably doesn’t make sense to go national,” he said.

But if scandal strikes, he’d change his mind. “If you have a big scandal for your opponent…macaca’ moment,’ you should be prepared to throw up ads nationally and see what happens,” he said.

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