MediaPost Publications runs an article today that talks about plans by political consultants to increase Web spending in 2008. I've written in the past about the potential to use paid search advertising as part of a political campaign, though at the time, the major parties were still pretty much ignoring the search engine marketing landscape. Times are changing though...and with another presidential election just two years away, many political consultants are trying to figure out how to best make use of the web for their candidates campaigns.

Back during the 2004 presidential campaign I wrote an article about the new trend of turning to the Internet to look up the "facts" that are often used during political commercials on television. Since anyone with half a brain knows that both sides like to bend the truth to fit their own purposes, the Internet has become a valuable tool for those that wish to dig a little deeper in order to find the truth.

With that in mind, the article makes it clear that most political consultants still don't quite get it... There's a difference between spending money somewhere because you think you have to and spending money somewhere because you understand how it can actually help you.

From the article:

The study, based on a survey of 155 political consultants, found that about one in three consultants, or 32 percent, intend to spend more than 20 percent of their campaign budgets online in 2008. This year, however, just 12 percent of consultants intend to spend that proportion of ad dollars online.

Still, despite plans to increase online budgets, many surveyed consultants continued to rate TV and cable as a better way to persuade voters than the Web. When asked to name the three best ways for candidates and advocates to win campaigns in 2008, 80 percent chose TV and cable. By comparison, far less chose Web sites (32 percent), radio (32 percent), newspapers (12 percent) or online ads (8 percent).

The reality is that political consultants are going to have to focus on learning how to market online more effectively. They're also going to have to learn a little bit about the world of blogging and online reputation management. Add in an understanding of organic search marketing and especially paid search marketing and you start to have the beginnings of a good online campaign. That said, if they want to really get some bang for their buck, they need to learn a little more about how viral marketing works online.

Who doesn't remember the boys from JibJab and their hilarious "This Land" parody? That video, though fairly neutral in political terms, shot through cyberspace at lightening speed before moving into the mainstream media and being run on talk shows and news broadcasts around the country. A well put-together comedy piece like that shouldn't be underestimated when it comes to impacting the YouTube watching, MySpace surfing voters of tomorrow.

At the same time, the absolute explosion of political bloggers in the past few years should make it clear that politics are a popular topic of discussion online. Well placed advertising, leaked quotes and set-up interviews with the right bloggers could go a long way toward mobilizing each party's base and toward encouraging donations and time spent volunteering. A good PR firm with understanding of the blogosphere could also have worked to minimize the potential damage of issues like Kerry's swift boat vets or Bush's National Guard record.

Finally, it's essential to remember that a lot of things come down to search. Buying PPC ads based on hot-button political topics like stem cell research, abortion rights, gun rights, school choice and a variety of other issues would allow candidates to quickly point searchers to their own position statements and candidate web sites. Pay-per-click campaigns would also allow for instant access to eyeballs when issues pop up overnight and there's no time to prepare an organic campaign, or to contact bloggers and party loyalists.

Unfortunately for the candidates, political consultants don't seem to have any of the above ideas on their radars quite yet. In fact, the greatest majority still think email is the way to go.

Which types of online channels do consultants think work best? The answer depends on whether they're trying to reach party loyalists or independents. Sixty percent of consultants said e-mail newsletters were among the most effective ways to reach members of a candidate's "loyal base," compared to 17 percent that deemed e-mail newsletters an effective way to reach every audience, and 8 percent that viewed e-mail newsletters as a good choice for reaching undecided voters.

This just goes to show that they don't yet get it. Sending emails out to your base is great for drumming up volunteers and cash, but you're basically marketing to the people that were going to vote for your anyway. Not exactly the best use of one's campaign coffers.

It will be interesting to see which side of the fence finally sees the light bulb go off in the next two years and plays the game smart enough to view the web as a chance to capture undecided voters rather than as a way to solidify a pre-existing base.

Then again...we are talking about a town where the Internet is now known as "a series of tubes..." so maybe I shouldn't be surprised that they don't...quite...get it.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

August 23, 2006

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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