Karen A.B. Jagoda
The two most common elements of an online campaign tend to be e-mail and a Web site with rich media and plenty of interactivity. The third and least developed leg of an online political campaign is online advertising. This article will answer questions about political online advertising strategies and explore how online advertising can target highly desirable audiences during parts of the day that are otherwise impossible to buy or prohibitively expensive. These “day parts” are subsections of the broadcasting day, used to determine the cost of advertising on a radio or television program.
Moreover, online advertising can be used for reinforcement as well as persuasion, by bolstering fund-raising and get-out-the-vote messages received through other media. ONLINE ADVERTISING BASICS Who used online ads in 2003?
According to Nielsen//NetRatings, Howard Dean and John Kerry were the first Democratic candidates in the 2004 presidential election to advertise online, with John Edwards following their lead a few months later.
In June 2003, Kerry’s campaign placed ads on Yahoo!, asking people to participate in an online primary being held by MoveOn.org. The Dean campaign followed in August with a series of ads on MSNBC that asked people to sign up to stay connected to his campaign. This particular media buy consisted of two sizes of ads: standard horizontal banners and skyscraper vertical banners. The landing page (the page where they “landed” after they clicked on the ad) include a passionate plea for people to join the Dean campaign by entering their contact information.
In October and November 2003, John Edwards became the predominant online advertiser among the presidential hopefuls. Washingtonpost.com, NYTimes.com and MSN were among the sites used for by Edwards to help him educate voters about his stand on key issues.
In the 2003 California recall race for Governor, Garrett Gruener led the way with online ads. Gruener, a co-founder of the popular Internet search engine Ask Jeeves, spent nearly $400,000 of his $1 million budget on paid search, online ads and e-mail appeals to gain name recognition and support. He advertised on many of the local California newspaper sites, such as the LATimes.com, mercurynews.com (the San Jose Mercury News site) and SignOnSanDiego.com, a San Diego Union Tribune property. When asked why he advertised online, he said, “I don’t know if it was more effective than TV but we did not have the budget for TV. I know we drove a lot of people to our site.” What accounts for candidates’ and consultants’ delay in embracing online advertising?
Many political strategists dismiss the Internet as a communications medium because they think the Internet does not reach the “right” people. For them the Internet is seen as a tool for the younger generation who do not vote in the same numbers as, say, retired union members.
In a recent column in the New York Times, Frank Rich described the out-of-date reputation of the Internet among politicians:
In Washington, the Internet is still seen mainly as a high-velocity dissemination of gossip (Drudge) and rabidly partisan sharp shooting by self-publishing excoriators of the left and the right. When used by campaigns, the Internet becomes a synonym for ‘the young,’ ‘geeks,’ ‘small contributors’ and ‘upper middle class,’ as if it were an eccentric electronic cousin to direct mail fundraising run by acne-prone members of a suburban high school’s computer club. In other words, the political establishment has been blindsided by the Internet’s growing sophistication as a political tool—and therefore blindsided by the Dean campaign.
This is consistent with a 2003 survey by the E-Voter Institute of political and advocacy communication leaders, which showed that the biggest hurdle to using the Internet is that people believe it is not a “reach medium” and cannot be used to target specific voters.
At the same time, the E-Voter survey revealed that there has been a significant jump in interest levels regarding political online ads. Perhaps candidates and consultants are beginning to take heed of the Internet population surveys published by Nielsen//NetRatings. According to a survey they conducted in the summer of 2003, 144 million adults 18 or older have been online in the last 30 days—a number almost as high as the estimated 150 million registered U.S. voters. Among these online American adults, the Internet is increasingly becoming the most trusted source for news and information. Though many surf the Internet while watching television, studies show that hours spent watching TV are dwindling as people have more choices for getting information. Is the Internet a persuasive advertising medium?
Persuasion comes in many forms. It happens when people are persuaded to give money to a campaign, or send their e-mail address for future communication from the candidate, or even change their mind about a candidate or issue.
Politicians have long understood the persuasive nature of television and radio ads, yard signs and volunteers handing out literature or walking around the neighborhood. They also understand the ability of cable television ads to deliver targeted messages to specific audiences.
None of these modes of communication, however, give the viewer or listener a direct and immediate way to respond to a call to action, ask for more information or send money to a campaign.
But an online ad can turn persuasion into action. While a television commercial can tell you that a candidate needs your help, only an online advertisement can send a viewer directly to a Web site that accepts credit cards. A radio ad can fire you up to spread the candidate’s message, but only an online ad lets you forward the message to your friends. What is actually bought in an online media plan?
There are a number of ways to buy real estate on Web sites in locations that will reach desired viewers.
• Paid Search – Internet search sites such as Google, Yahoo!, AOL and Microsoft’s MSN have seen a jump in interest in paid searches. Ads are served up when visitors use a search engine to look for information about a candidate, race or issue. It is a way to connect with the core audience who has already identified themselves as interested and who are looking for information. Ads that appear in these environments are seen as less intrusive and more helpful than other forms of online ads.
Overall spending on the paid search market (on all kinds of advertising, not just political ads) was expected to reach $1.6 billion in 2003 and is projected to reach $4.4 billion by 2008, according to New York-based Jupiter Research, which tracks Internet trends. The advantages of this type of advertising are that it is clear that the viewer is interested in the specific topic addressed by the ad, the results are measurable and costs are relatively low.
• Online Ads – Banner ads with animation, photos or rotating text have been in use for many years. Most Web browsers can see them. Over time, sizes have changed, placement has been adjusted and creative tools have become enhanced. These banners are effective if placed on pages with high traffic and contextual relevance. Banner ads are relatively easy to buy, though the variety of sizes on different sites may require additional time to properly size the ad.
• Rich Media – Rich media ads are those that incorporate video, animation and sound and allow for more interaction with the viewer. Many require the most recent version of popular browsers, but as Americans upgrade their computer capabilities, the ability to view these ads is becoming more commonplace. Then again, so is the ability to block the pop-up variety of these ads.
The vast majority of businesses, government offices and universities have a broadband connection to the Internet, and 20 percent of the households in the U.S. also have high-speed connections. This provides an opportunity for political communications consultants to consider Web-bas ed television-style ads with streaming video to be placed on popular sites.
There are still challenges for rich media ads. Will they be seen as too intrusive? Will the viewer be able to manage the viewing and audio of the ad? Will the political consultants be able to apply their reach and frequency metrics to television-like online ads?
• Text Ads – Text only ads can appear on newsletters or on search engines. Sometimes the ads are highlighted by a light colored background but there are otherwise no graphics. These ad units are challenging because of the limitations in the number of text characters that can be used and the need to compete with the other text on the page.
• E-Mail and Newsletters – These ads appear as a text ad or banner within the body of an e-mail message. This technique provides good targeting, though the quality of the mailing list will ultimately determine the effectiveness of the ad message. COSTS What are some of the costs associated with online advertising?
Simple banners, buttons and text links are relatively inexpensive to create. Rich media banners can cost $5,000-$10,000 to develop, while television ads can cost as much as $50,000. Repurposing media is one way campaigns are controlling costs, though the interactivity elements of the ad need to be fully developed to in order to take advantage of the power of the Internet. Costs are measured in a unit called “cost per thousand.” What is a cost per thousand?
Cost per thousand (CPM) pricing for placement of online ads is dependent on:
• Popularity of the site – How many people does it reach?
• Quality of the audience – Are these people likely to vote?
• Degree of targeting – For example, women over 18 or women entrepreneurs between 45-60 who also have children.
• Quantity of impressions being bought – Buying a few hundred thousand impressions at the very last minute will cost more than millions of impressions planned over the course of the campaign.
• Size and content of the ad – Rich media ads with video cost more; small static buttons cost a lot less.
What is an average price for cost per thousand?
In general, CPM pricing can range from $1 to $50 or more per CPM depending on all of the factors listed above. TARGETING THE MESSAGE Where is online advertising usually placed?
Online ads can appear in a number of places throughout a site. Large Web publishers such as Microsoft, Yahoo! and AOL have some areas within their sites where they know exactly who is visiting, and other areas where they have a general idea of who is spending time looking for information or entertainment.
When someone signs up for an e-mail account, sites providing the service usually obtain a physical mailing address and credit card information. When the e-mail account is accessed, specific ads can be served to those individuals as they send and receive e-mail. How are online ads targeted?
Online ads can be targeted in essentially three ways:
• Target by Individual – Sites such as the NYTimes.com have strong targeting capabilities due to the fact that they require registration and have shown through independent research that their readers are very likely to vote. While their reach across the country may be relatively low, the penetration within the desired voting population is over 40 percent.
• Target by Context – People who go to local news sites are generally voters in those media markets. Visitors to financial sections on Yahoo!, MSN or AOL are most likely concerned about the economy and their own retirement. Trusted news sources such as CNN, ABC News, local television, radio and newspapers have increasingly shown they are attracting engaged citizens.
• Target by Behavior – There are ways to target visitors to some sites where there is little known about the exact person who is seeing the ad, but there is a great deal known about people like them based on Web behavior. This method of targeting is just now coming into the marketplace, and early tests will determine how accurate the predictive model is. MEASURES OF SUCCESS How can we measure success with our new online advertising program?
Before online political ads are launched, it is necessary to determine how the success of the campaign will be measured. Some ways to determine success include:
Increased name recognition
Lift in favorability in polls
Traffic generated to Web site
Number of e-mail addresses harvested
Increased voter registration
Motivated, loyal base of support
Influence swing and independent voters
Mobilization of volunteers
Increased voter turnout
Amount of press coverage of candidate’s Internet ad activity
Level of annoyance and number of complaints
Some of these elements, such as dollars raised after a single online campaign appeal, are easily measured, while other measures of success are more elusive.
The most interesting measure for many is the change in poll numbers regarding favorability, which might be seen after an Internet ad campaign runs either alone or in conjunction with other media. This sort of activity can only be measured by surveying the audience of those who saw the online ads and those who did not.
The harder to measure component is whether a voter may have been influenced by an online ad, even though he or she did not click on it or otherwise interact with the message. Strong evidence from studies done about online ads for consumer brands suggests that the majority of the people who do not click on ads are nevertheless influenced by the message. More research needs to be conducted on the impact of the political online ads that are viewed and not clicked on. Some online ads seem to annoy people. Does this negatively affect the success of online advertising?
Some might find it odd to consider the degree of annoyance as a measure of success. Traditional advertising to mass audiences increasingly requires that the message break through the clutter and interrupt the viewer. Techniques like buttons and banners are un-intrusive and as a result are not seen as being highly effective. Rich media banners that are larger in size, vertical skyscrapers, pop-ups or pop-unders and interstitials (ads that appear in between pages) provoke a higher level of annoyance and correspondingly have a higher level of effectiveness in measure recall and impact. COMPARING ONLINE ADVERTISING TO OTHER MEDIUMS Are there different legal rules for TV ad and Internet ads?
Yes. Television ads for federal candidates require certain disclaimers and ask you to identify the source of the ad’s funding. These items are not applicable to online advertising. However, requirements are sometimes complicated, so you should consult with an attorney or media buyer who is familiar with the rules. Similarly, rules regarding access, pricing and turn-around time to run ads also differ. How can a campaign use online advertising to enhance messaging through traditional media?
Many strategists have assumed that the Internet is not critical to the campaign and that the Web expert on the team can handle online ads, as well as other Web related activities. That viewpoint began to change in the virtual primary year of 2003, as presidential and state races began to think of the Internet as part of the larger picture. Still, online ad budgets were slim and the recognition of the potential power to enhance other messaging was missing.
No one is suggesting that online ads replace television or radio ads, yard signs or phone banks. There, given that online advertising has the ability to optimize the message transmitted through other media inexpensively, campaigns should consider adding in a line item for online advertising. What does the future hold for online advertising?
Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform has made it possible for soft dollars to be spent on Internet advertising in the last 30 and 60 days before a primary and general election, while restricting the use of soft money for similar television and radio ads.
How will the media strategists handle this challenge? It remains to be seen whether they divert money to television ads through creative campaign spending, or use the Internet as a tool for reaching voters in those most important days before an election when the majority of people decide how they are going to vote?
The pervasive use of cell phones provides another opportunity for political communications strategists to reach targeted voters. Though limited space on the screen presents creative challenges, the immediacy of the message may make them more compelling. Sending text ads to wireless devices, while intrusive, may also be a way to quickly raise money or mobilize voters on Election Day. We have seen explosive growth around the world for this type of communication.
It is expected that over one billion dollars will be spent in 2004 for communications by political campaigns. Approximately $25 million of this amount will be spent on online advertising. But this amount will only increase as more and more Americans have access to a high-speed Internet connection and as candidates and their consultants understand the power of the Internet.