Politicians have already latched onto Twitter and Facebook, but this election cycle, YouTube could be the campaign tool of choice. Google has launched a service on the popular video site that is helping candidates target voters online like never before — one that could eventually rival cash cow political ads on TV.
Using Google's in-stream ads, those brief commercials you see before before YouTube clips, campaigns can now go after potential voters with geo-location technology and content interest-targeting. For example, if Levi Johnston's rumored campaign spends some ad dollars, residents of Wasilla might see the ex-Palin camper pitch his mayoral campaign before viewing YouTube videos. Or, if Levi pollsters see a weakness in, say, public reception of his family values, the campaign could target only Alaskan viewers of YouTube's Parenting category.
"In stream ads are probably the hottest thing in political advertising right now," says Andrew Roos, Google's account executive for the election and issue ads team. "This was a product that wasn't available in the 2008 presidential campaign, and now we're seeing dozens of candidates using it in over 15 battleground states."
Google has seen adoption rates of online advertising for gubernatorial and senatorial races increase by 800% this election cycle. Mid-term candidates including senate hopefuls Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Dino Rossi (Wash.) are taking advantage of the service by simply re-purposing television ads to run on YouTube—a cheap and effective way of broadening the TV spots' reach.
Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett, for instance, has reached nearly 500,000 potential Badger state-voters using YouTube's service. "The more we can harness these online tools, the more we can communicate with voters," says Phil Walzak, communications director for the Barrett campaign. Bottom line: it has a real impact, Walzak says. "It unlocks a lot of doors."
Roos points out that campaigns have traditionally spent a significant amount of time and resources producing television ads. Now, YouTube's service lets candidates re-use those same ads for online audiences. "Our favorite phrase is: Our ads are click-able but not skip-able," says Roos. "A lot of people fast-forward now with DVR on television—on YouTube, you know you have a very engaged audience because you can't skip through the ad."
So why is Google getting involved with political campaigns? As Roos relates, Massachusetts senator Scott Brown spent 10% of his ad-dollars online in the special election against Martha Coakley this year. Google's idea, he says, is to go after a similar 10%-in-2010 digital campaign-spending goal. In total, both the Brown and Coakley campaigns spent $23 million during the special election—10% of that would come to $2.3 million.
"We've been up front with this," he says. "It's a great business opportunity."