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Political Campaigns & Digital Marketing: Did They Miss the Mark?

Posted on 11.04.2012

We all know how online marketing and social media can be a goldmine of potential consumers.

Brands like Whole Foods Market and Samsung have succeeded on Twitter with as many as 3 million followers each. Coke triumphs over Pepsi on YouTube with about 108 million views and 83,700 subscribers. Among media brands, Disney dominates with nearly 38,700,000 Facebook fans. In 2011, Netflix’s display advertising received 36.9 billion ad impressions and was cited as one of the top 10 display advertisers in the United States. 

But when you look at political spending, campaigns are still spending more on traditional media platforms than online. Consumer brands are learning how to harness online and social media, but political marketers can take a lesson from those finding success with digital marketing. Online and social media is an advantageous investment if political campaigns wisely use online channels, especially their analytics tools. 

But if online and social media are so powerful then why are the presidential candidates and Super PACs not investing more into online advertising? Why are campaigns and Super PACs less interested in social media than offline? 

Traditional media is still the force in political spending. True, online spending is six times higher for this year’s election than it was in 2008, but for political advertising, TV is the main medium—approximately $7.3 billion dollars for broadcast TV, cable and radio versus $159 million for online, according to Borrell Associates.  

Historically, political campaigners had two rivals in the final stretch on an election: a Democrat versus Republican, and those two camps spent money on their campaigns. Now, Super PACs have flooded the ad market, driving up the competition and the inventory price within paid search advertising. For instance, if there are only two people bidding on keywords, there’s a limited competition with keyword bidding. However, if you have 10 people bidding on the same keywords, it drives up the price of inventory and increases the cost-per-click.  

Obama advisor, David Axelrod, may have put it best when he said that local TV is “still the nuclear weapon” within an election. This doesn’t mean, however, that political marketers are not concerned about the digital battleground. One of the biggest wins is the investment by the Obama campaign in its social and online media. By numbers alone, Obama leads in many fronts on the digital battleground—from Twitter, online display ads and paid search marketing. But you need more than mere numbers to be successful. Candidates, like consumer brands, can better leverage online and social media to keep and win supporters.

First, test, track and analyze your political messaging in the digital space. For instance, let’s say you have a rally in the battleground state of Ohio and want to ensure high voter turnout. Social and online marketing are useful to engage and motivate your base, as well as communicating with your base quickly and in real-time. As you gather your online following, you can test and track which messages resonate with those people before creating a costly TV ad or making a speech. That’s a competitive strategy that marketers can use before going to market.

Second, marketers should invest marketing dollars into online display ads to target undecided voters. Marketing is not solely about the size of your budget but who’s going to spend their budget more intelligently. Display advertising or banner ads can be the tipping point because of its granular level of targeting. Within this channel, you can find such information like demographics, geography, and user behavior, making display ads far superior than TV and allowing marketers to gain more precise and targeted reach.

Third, think like your competitor both online and offline. Some people believe that “big data” can solve many marketing problems but that’s a misconception. Like any amount of information, you need to gather, organize and properly analyze it. You need the attention to detail and objectivity to find any missed opportunities or big wins – for you and your competitor. By investing more resources into data analytics tools (Google Analytics and Adobe SiteCatalyst), you have greater insight into the effectiveness of your online advertising than with other medium, such as how many donations are you receiving from a banner ad versus a paid search campaign. 

To sum it up, it might not be that political campaigns are less interested in digital marketing. They also need to consider if they are investing their ad dollars where it counts—through quality analytics.

About the Author: Jon Morris is the founder and CEO of Rise Interactive, a digital marketing agency in Chicago, specializing in digital media and web analytics.


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