Online ads in 2010: Electoral Trends Beyond Wins and Losses

Friday, December 3, 2010 | 2:31 PM

It’s an exciting time to be talking about technology and politics. This week Google’s Elections and Issue Advocacy Team met with a sampling of representatives of some of the best run campaigns and political digital agencies to recap the 2010 election. We all agreed that this election cycle was a breakthrough year for political online advertising. According to Jupiter/Forrester, Americans now spend the same amount of time on the Internet as they do on radio, newspapers and magazines combined, and this past election cycle, we saw politicians take full advantage of this trend.

Online advertising burst onto the political scene in 2008, but in 2010 we saw seismic shifts in the industry. In fact, almost 80% of governor and senatorial candidates were spending online with Google. This is up 900% since 2008. Furthermore, 20 of the top 25 independent expenditure or issue advocacy groups invested in online advertising with Google this cycle.

We saw politicians innovate and find new ways to engage voters this election cycle. It’s more important to understand what campaigns were doing differently online in this election rather than merely where they are putting their ad dollars. So in that spirit here are five major trends we saw this year:

#1 - Online as a Persuasion Tool

Politicians and issue groups learned how to brand online. Campaigns are turning from using the internet purely as a “direct response” mechanism and now employ it as a persuasion medium as well. It’s not news that campaigns know how to raise money online, but increasingly we have seen campaigns and issue groups utilize online ads to drive message and mobilize voters. Consider the growth in Display advertising: in 2010 almost 600 campaigns and issue groups used Display advertising and the Google Display Network targeting key demographics with relevant messages.

#2 - Adoption of Online Up and Down the Ballot

Close to 200 local candidates and ballot initiatives were spending online with Google. In addition, out the 100 most highly visible and competitive congressional races around the country over 85% of those districts were being targeted by online ad campaigns – compared to just a handful one Election cycle before. We even created a Campaign Builder tool so smaller campaigns could get online within minutes.

#3 - Online Video Grows Up, Fast

Campaigns have understood the power of television since the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon Debate, and in 2010 we have taken the same leap forward by tapping into the power of online video. Candidates and issue groups used YouTube to help extend the lives of their TV campaigns, and started integrating online video into the core strategies. Instream ads which are pre-, mid-, or post-roll ads showing on YouTube partner content was the hottest thing we saw in online political advertising. This ad format wasn’t even available yet on election day 2008, and by election day this year hundreds of campaigns and issue groups were using the medium. Another great story is BIPAC (Business and Industry Political Action Committee) who even took over the YouTube Homepage on Election Day.

#4 - Mobile Advertising Grows Exponentially

We saw over 550 campaigns and issue groups experiment with mobile advertising this election cycle. Every week, tens of millions of people search on Google from their mobile phones and generate hundreds of millions of searches, so it makes sense that campaigns and issue groups want to place ads, where their voters are spending time. And we saw cutting-edge uses of mobile’s powerful geo-targeting capabilities, like Rep. Michele Bachmann targeting Minnesota State Fair-goers with a tailored message about taxes.

#5 - The Network Blast Goes Mainstream

Perhaps the stage was set with Scott Brown’s victory in January and his campaign’s expert use of the Google Network Blast, but one lesson we learned throughout the rest of the cycle was that “The Blast” has gone mainstream. A “Network Blast” is a short-lived ad campaign used for gaining maximum exposure across the web at crucial moments. In the days leading up to the election, there were dozens of blasts-- saturating voters with the right closing message. We saw network blasts in races from as small as state senate to as large as entire battleground states. These campaigns made sure they were top of mind as voters headed to the polls.

The trend-lines are clear and we expect campaigns to be even more aggressive in courting the “Digital American” in 2012.

Posted by Andrew Roos, Account Executive, Google Political Ads


Dr. Michael Quadlander said...

With the ability to broadcast your political content at near zero cost via online channels... there should be less need for campaign financial contributions.

A more level playing field for all the candidates.

Dr. Michael Quadlander

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The Septic Tank Blog said...

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Thanks for posting Andrew.

Anonymous said...

The "Digital American" should have more power. Instead of just voting an elected official into office and then letting them do as they please, We The People should be able to vote directly on legislation instead of hoping that our newly-elected official will make the right choice.

We at GovTogether are trying to make this happen. If we get enough support votes on our site, we can begin the process of having those who are in office take a pledge to abide by this new system, where ordinary people like you and me have our say.

Ideally, all of our votes would be the sole source of a decision on whether something gets passed into law or not.

If you like the idea, come to our site and show your support with a vote.

We would greatly appreciate it.