Obama’s 2012 Web Campaign Aims to Re-energize – and Retarget

obama-announcementad1From the online ads to the announcement video, Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign launch is squarely aimed at reenergizing the base. And Obama for America is following other recent sophisticated political campaigns in its use of ad tracking technologies that in the future could be limited by do-not-track efforts.

Yesterday, display ads and large ad takeovers appeared on left-leaning sites like DailyKos, Democratic Underground, and Wonkette, as supporters of Democrats and related causes were served Facebook ads asking “Are You In?”

This time around, though, the use of online advertising comes before television or other traditional ad buys. “Before they advertise on TV, before they send a single piece of direct mail…the Obama campaign is up and aggressively advertising on the Internet,” said Michael Bassik, SVP digital strategy at political communications firm Global Strategy Group, a firm that works with Democratic candidates and organizations.

Standard display and blog ad units are still running on the aforementioned sites, in addition to Crooks and Liars, and Eschaton. “At this early stage of the election, the goal is to solidify your base and to recruit supporters, donors, and volunteers…. That being the goal, I think the ads were well targeted,” Bassik said. People working on the Obama online ads declined to comment for this story.


The BarackObama.com campaign site employs basic behavioral ad tracking technology that has grown in prevalence among political advertisers since the ’08 election. Visitors to the site are receiving retargeting cookies from online ad networks including AOL’s Advertising.com, Yahoo’s BlueLithium, and Google. In the future, they will most likely receive Obama ads while visiting any of the countless sites in those networks, because they visited the campaign site.

“Especially with a direct response campaign, the ability to advertise to individuals who have visited your site in the past [to entice them to] return to make a donation is very smart,” suggested Bassik. “It’s also a way to continue to provide supporters with positive messages throughout the election.”

obama-announcementad3Republican Rick Lazio’s 2010 campaign for New York Governor, as well as Missouri Democrat Tommy Sowers‘s 2010 congressional campaign both used retargeting to capture potential supporters who may not have donated or signed up on the first site visit.

Retargeting is pervasive online, particularly on retail, financial services or other commercial sites; it’s just the sort of data collection and ad targeting technology that could be limited by do-not-track and online privacy-related legislation currently working its way through congress, and sponsored by Democrats including California Rep. Jackie Speier and Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush. The Obama administration’s own Commerce Department has signaled support for industry self-regulatory efforts aimed at giving people more control over tracking and targeting.

Especially when it comes to attracting independents and undecided voters, the Obama campaign – along with GOP primary candidates and advocacy groups on the right and left – can be expected to use more robust forms of behavioral ad targeting. For instance, they may use ad networks to find moms based on the fact that they have visited cooking sites, or young males who have visited sports sites.

For now, the Obama display ads, along with the announcement video published yesterday on the campaign site and YouTube, are aimed at generating awareness, and rallying 2008 volunteers to rejoin the campaign by signing up to begin laying the groundwork for grassroots events and fundraising efforts. “President Obama just launched his 2012 campaign, and grassroots support will be more crucial than ever,” state some of the display ads. “Will you join us in the fight for a better America at the new BarackObama.com?”

obama-2012announce-fb4According to Bassik, “The message of the ads – we’re in this together – sort of sparks the conversation that this is the start and you need to reengage.” The display ads also have a similar look to the much-touted 2008 campaign creative, featuring Obama’s image, the recognizable campaign logo, and a bright blue hue. “As they’re trying to appeal to the base, the idea to have a consistent look and feel to the campaign is important. That look means something to people,” Bassik said.

Some of the ads include a Twitter link that automatically generates a message stating, “President Obama is in for 2012. Are you?” The auto tweet includes the #obama2012 hashtag and links to a sign up form and the announcement video. The site also includes quick links to sign up to volunteer, share the news with friends on Facebook, and donate $30 or more to get a limited edition campaign T-shirt. As has become commonplace, the signup form also asks for a mobile number.

“This is the start of an ongoing advertising presence for the Obama campaign,” continued Bassik. “I don’t anticipate advertising coming down between Facebook and Google and very targeted display advertising.”

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