Online Ads May Have Swayed Some Voters
by Kate Kaye Friday, November 15, 2002

   
         
    As Democrats struggle to determine just where they went wrong in campaigning for the recent election, perhaps they ought to consider what some GOP candidates have discovered since last Tuesday: "It’s the Internet, stupid."    
    The just-released E-Voter Institute’s "Internet Impact on Politics" study for 2002 has found that 56% of political communications leaders polled used or recommended buying online advertising this year, up from 33% last year. But once word gets out about the online ads that helped an Arizona Republican underdog win by 27,000 votes, or the 5% of AOL poll respondents who "switched their votes" to Republican candidates after seeing issue advocacy ads placed on AOL, those numbers might rise.    
    Bill Caspare, founder and president of interactive political marketing firm, db associates says his phone is already ringing off the hook. He ran millions of "big static ads" on AOL and Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation sites months before the election and placed streaming audio banner ads in local Arizona newspaper sites just before November 5 for incumbent candidate for corporation commissioner, Jim Irvin. Regardless of reams of bad press stemming from a deal gone awry, the obvious underdog won the race by a startling 27,000 votes.    
    "I think it made the difference," concludes Caspare. "This is a guy who should have lost by over twenty percentage points."    
    Some tight national senate races may have been influenced by Web ads, too. The National Republican Senatorial Committee bought 13 million banner impressions through AOL Local Sales that ran on AOL, Time.com, Mapquest and other sites. The issue advocacy ads were geo-targeted by city, DMA, and sometimes state and zip code. Of the nine races affected by the ads, five GOP candidates won. AOL's Michael Bassik reports the click-through rates as “sky high,” with an average of 1% CTR and up to 6% CTR in some placements.    
    According to the E-Voter Institute study, 40% of those polled say the Internet doesn’t allow them to reach swing voters. However, it may have been the emotive quality of rich media ads that did the trick for candidate Jan Brewer. When weekend polling had Caspare "extremely concerned" for the Arizona Secretary of State candidate, he knew it was independent voters he had to reach. With streaming audio firm, Klipmart, he repurposed audio from radio spots endorsing Brewer that featured the voice of Senator John McCain. He can't say for certain it was the online plan that turned the tides, but Caspare thinks McCain’s audio message "touched a lot of people."    
    Still, many political marketers aren’t convinced that the Web is an effective branding tool. Despite being "pleasantly surprised" by the response of the ads she placed on AOL, the NRSC’s director of integrated media, Laura Dove, is "not sold on the branding aspect, or the ability to persuade someone on an issue," although she is "totally sold on the efficacy of banner ads in promoting mobilization of activists and grass roots recruitment."    
    Whether political marketers choose to employ the Internet for direct response fundraising or less measurable branding purposes, recently released PoliticsOnline Research predicts the Internet exemption in the soft money ban "will result in at least a 300 to 500% increase in spending online In 2004."