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Political Ads: Get Ready for the “Google Blasts”

Google tells Fast Company that political campaigns have been talking to its ad network about saturating the Internet with ads in the last days before the midterm elections.

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If you’re sick of political advertisements, you’re probably planning on turning off the boob tube this coming weekend, since the final days before an election is historically when campaigns flood television programming with last-minute appeals. But if you want to completely avoid the new mud-slinging, you might need to stay off the Web too. And maybe your cellphone as well.

Campaigns across the country have a new weapon in their armory–online advertising network blasts, also called “Google blasts.” And we’re not talking about the AdWords text-based messages that appear next to your results on Google Search. We’re talking full-color display ads (banners, videos, and others) that appear on the millions of sites–on both computers and mobile devices–that get their ads from the Google display ad network.

“[You use] a network blast over a short period of time in a particular geography and try to get saturation levels of your advertisements out there,” explains Andrew Roos, Google’s political ad strategist who works with candidates and advocacy groups to implement advertising campaigns. “The voter wakes up in the morning, and they check the sports scores, or go to RachelRay.com, or go to some local news site, and everywhere they go throughout the day, they’re seeing this message to get out and vote for this person, or a closing argument–again again and again.”

The blasts hold obvious appeals to political candidates: “The end effect is making sure you touch people last on election day,” Roos says, “so that your closing argument, your name is the last thing they remember as they’re going to the polls.”

Republican senator Scott Brown’s team used this tactic in the last days before the Massachusetts special election in January. On the Thursday before the vote, the campaign sent out an advertising blast to recruit last-minute volunteers. On the following Monday and Tuesday, they dropped get-out-the-vote messages into the network. The tools don’t exist yet to measure the get-out-the-vote impact, but Brown’s volunteer sign-ups following the network blast were up 122% over the previous month’s daily average.

While television has long been the Cadillac of political advertising, online advertising may soon take its place because of the power it gives campaigns–not only can you choose the types of sites you advertise on (the Brown campaign placed volunteer recruitment ads on center-right websites), but you can zero in on a locality. On television, your ads go everywhere a station’s signal goes. Online, you can cherry-pick by town.

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“As a political campaign, our job is not to mobilize all the voters in the state,” says Rob Willington, of Swiftcurrent Strategies, who worked on the Brown campaign. “Our job is to mobilize our voters. Knowing that, if you lived in Cambridge [Mass], you were not going to see our get-out-the-vote reminder because it’s very liberal, there are a lot of Democrats there, and it doesn’t make much sense for us to turn out the vote there.”

Roos says “dozens and dozens” of campaigns have talked with Google’s political ad sales team about dropping similar Google blasts in the days ahead of this year’s midterm elections. Willington says he plans on using both Google and AOL’s display ad network for the congressional and state-level campaigns he’s advising this election.

“A lot of campaigns saw the success [Brown] had and how he kind of caught this wave of momentum online,” Roos says, “and they are trying to recreate that.”

[Image by Flickr user Wesley Oostvogels]

About the author

E.B. Boyd (@ebboyd) has holed up in conference rooms with pioneers in Silicon Valley and hunkered down in bunkers with soldiers in Afghanistan.

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