Political Ad Spend in ’06, More Message Ads to Come

tns_logo.gifIf you follow the online political ad scene closely, you’ll see the same names and same issues come up over and over. Since this niche of the advertising industry is in an early stage, everybody knows everybody. So, when they hold events to promote using the Web for political campaigns, usually the same handful of people ends up staring across the room at one another as last year.

The latest event, held by industry research mainstay, E-Voter Institute, took place outside D.C. late last month. I finally got a chance to check out part of the webcast of the event, “Research, Relationships, and Reality Check: Campaign 2008 Begins.”

Evan Tracey, COO of the Campaign Media Analysis Group at TNS Media Intelligence, ran down the firm’s estimates of political ad spending leading up to the ’06 elections. Although all online ad spending data has yet to be tallied, the company estimated $2-5 million was spent in online paid ads, compared to $300 million in local cable spending and $60 million in radio. If those numbers seem low, remember they’re much higher leading up to a presidential campaign.

“Our system only looks at about 3,000 of the most commercially trafficked sites which is not necessarily what you’d consider to be real estate for political buying,” said Tracey. “They tend to be more political blog sites, much more local, outside of our scope. However, those sites don’t generate much ad revenues.”

Yes, they’re seeing more growth in political Web ad spending. Yet, the more interesting finding is that a greater variety of campaigns are using the Web — and for reasons other than fundraising, the old standby objective fueled by Howard Dean’s ’04 presidential primary campaign. More campaigns are running message-oriented campaigns, pushing ideas through Web ads, said Tracey, adding that such efforts are happening especially at local levels.

Of 220 types of elected offices candidates aim to win, 36 ran ads in ’06. Half of the spending came from federal or gubernatorial races, and total ad spending online was split evenly between Republican and Democratic candidates.

Also, it looks like local paper sites scored. According to Tracey, “The majority of the traffic in paid online advertising that we saw [was] on local newspaper sites.”

We can expect more spending earlier and earlier in the cycle, Tracey predicted. He noted we’re seeing a growing use of the Web and cable TV to generate press coverage. Though he was just talking paid ads, this is certainly true when it comes to the blog and YouTube effect content-wise.

Also, some interesting tidbits about voter media consumption habits according to TNS: Both Democrats and Republican voters use the Internet for news, financial, shopping, search, travel and local info. However, they split with Dems also going online for entertainment and music, while Republicans also use the Web for medical information.

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