Political Campaigns Discover Online Advertising

Despite the fact that Al Gore invented the Internet, and that
would-be politicians are accustomed to spending gobs of money on TV and
radio advertising every couple of years, political campaigns are only
beginning to put two and two together and recognize the power of
advertising online.


Undoubtedly, though, they are “getting it,” as events in this year’s
presidential race indicate. And those in the know suggest this is only the
beginning of a lucrative, albeit seasonal, revenue stream for ad industry
types.


“This will be seen as the year the revolution hit electoral politics,” says
Roger Stone, director of the Juno
Advocacy Network.


It’s that promise of a market that has fueled the growth of advertising
strategy companies setting up shop in Washington D.C. For most, their bread
and butter has been lobbying groups, because these issue-oriented
advertisers are around all year and create a recurring revenue stream.


“Candidates have been a lot slower to adopt the Internet as part of their
strategies than issue groups,” says Jonah Sieger, co-founder of MindShare Internet Campaigns, a small,
but growing, firm that works with lobbying groups.


But, says Sieger, “the market for online campaigns and political media
strategies has just exploded.”


24/7 Media has also been courting
politicos and lobbyists, having opened a Washington, D.C. office last year
with just that aim in mind.


“We’re very very excited about what we see the possibilities to be,” says
Jay Friesel, executive vice president, sales and marketing, at 24/7 Media,
adding that we can expect, in the next few weeks, to see political ads
running on the network.


So far, the four candidates that are seen as major contenders have all made
forays into online advertising, and the spending is only likely to increase
as the election draws nearer.


George W. Bush’s campaign, with the help of Web political strategy agency
Aristotle, has created a rich media
pop-up banner ad
(using Enliven‘s technology) that lets
viewers calculate how the Bush tax plan would effect them. That banner ran
on 1500 sites in Iowa and New Hampshire.


“Thus far, the reports have been very positive on click-throughs and time
spent calculating,” says Greg Sedberry, Bush’s e-campaign manager.


Bush’s main primary competition, John McCain, has been using the Internet
in his effort to get on primary ballots, and to get out the word on his
opposition to Internet taxation.


McCain’s campaign spent $3,000 to run a banner campaign on
over 100 sites in Virginia, and got a two percent click-through on the
10,000 impressions it purchased. More importantly, it helped round up 97
volunteers to collect signatures for McCain.


“We are extremely pleased with the Virginia ads,” said Max Fose, Internet
manager for the McCain campaign, adding that it expects to expand on that
success with more buys as the action heats up.


The second major effort for McCain has been a buy on Microsoft’s Slate.com, where the campaign has bought
banner ads proclaiming the candidate’s opposition to Internet taxation. The
banner links to a section of McCain’s Web site, which offers an explanation
of his reasoning on the issue.


The Democratic side hasn’t neglected the Net, either. Bill Bradley’s
campaign is running ads, targeted at 100,000 voters in New Hampshire, Iowa,
and California, on the Juno ISP. Roger Stone, who has been Juno’s liaison
to the Bradley campaign, says he’s been surprised at how involved the Web

strategist has been in the campaign.


“Their Internet and Web person is in and part of all the sessions in
setting the strategy,” says Stone. “That really brings the revolution home.”


The Internet-savvy vice president, surprisingly, has been the least active
online recently. Back in June, Al Gore bought ads to promote the Webcast of
his campaign kickoff, but, so far, no more has been seen of the candidate
online.


Part of what’s fueling the increased awareness is the development of the
Internet as a more mainstream medium. As Grandma and Uncle Joe get online,
there’s just no ignoring the Web as a means of reaching people.


Second, and perhaps most important, is the e-fundraising factor. Candidates
are realizing that this direct-response medium is a great way to drive
supporters to their sites, where they can make campaign contributions with
their credit cards. Since McCain’s victory in New Hampshire on Tuesday
night, newly-hopeful supporters have logged on to donate more than $741,000
to the Republican’s campaign. Bill Bradley is reputed to have raised more
than $3 million on his site. And, because most of this is credit card
money, it can be spent immediately. There’s no waiting for the checks to
clear.


In addition, the Internet is just plain cheap compared to other media, and,
with some ad serving systems, candidates can target voters outside of the
major metropolitan areas that are getting hit with TV and radio spots.


Finally, of course, the Internet has always been praised for its
democratizing power — the ability it gives candidates to communicate
directly with a voter and, to use marketing lingo, develop a one-to-one
relationship.


As technology is developed further — to include better profiling,
geographic targeting, etc. — one can only expect the Internet to play a
more central role in the marketing of candidates. E-mail campaigns
certainly can’t be far off. As Bush’s e-strategist, Sedberry, put it, “the
Internet is the fastest growing medium in politics.”

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