Online Political Advertising Gets Personal

Article excerpt

Political advertising is taking over television airwaves in battleground states, but complementary online advertising is also ubiquitous and being used by campaigns more than ever before.

Presidential campaigns, especially President Barack Obama's, have been at the forefront of digital political advertising. But this cycle, Congressional campaigns are catching up, using their Internet pitches not only as a fundraising tool, but as a key component of their strategy to target voting blocs.

There are "substantially more campaigns at the House and Senate level than last cycle, but it's not just that they're using it, it's how they're using it," said Rob Saliterman, head of GOP advertising outreach at Google and former spokesman for President George W. Bush.

Television remains the dominant medium for campaign communication.

But digital strategy firms from both parties are working with campaigns at all levels -- from the presidential to provincial -- to capitalize on the targeting opportunities that online advertising provides. They are adapting new technologies and putting an increased emphasis on the digital as the media marketplace continues to fragment.

The number of people watching videos online is skyrocketing, according to digital data compiled by comScore. It reported on Tuesday that an all-time high of 188 million internet users in the United States watched 37.7 billion online videos in August, with 9.5 billion video ads viewed.

Thanks to techniques such as voter-file online ad targeting -- which emerged late in the 2010 cycle -- it's easier than ever for campaigns to show their ads to only the groups of voters they are targeting.

Pre-roll video -- where a 15- or 30-second ad airs before the video the viewer wanted to watch starts -- was rarely used by political campaigns before the 2010 cycle. Since then, both the use of pre-roll video ads and the amount of available advertising space - - known as "inventory" -- in which to air such ads have increased dramatically.

"This is a consequence of a couple of different things going on in the changing media landscape," said Eli Kaplan, a Democratic digital strategist at Rising Tide Interactive. "More and more people are watching video online, and more and more publishers are seeking to monetize that inventory by putting pre-roll video advertisements in front of it."

That's led companies including AOL, Google, Facebook and Twitter to hire strategists from the political world to help with outreach to potential advertisers. Just on the Republican side, along with Saliterman joining Google, Twitter hired GOP digital strategist Mindy Finn; Facebook brought on Katie Harbath, the former chief digital strategist at the National Republican Senatorial Committee; and AOL snapped up John Randall, the former e-campaign director at the National Republican Congressional Committee.

"There's two sides to the story," said Peter Pasi, a Republican digital strategist and executive vice president at Emotive. …