Poli-Techs: How Campaigns Will Use Online Tools in the 2010 Elections Crunch

The last week of an election used to be about making calls and knocking on doors. Now it’s moved online.

Facebook political ads


The 2010 mid-term elections are less than a week away, which means candidates are about to pull out all the stops. And while they’ll be hewing to the traditional game books–bombard television with ads, set up phone banks for get-out-the-vote calls–technology has also given those who will use it a slew of new tools and tactics that are going to change the end-game in ways we haven’t seen before. Fast Company talked to several political consultants from both sides of the aisle about what we to expect in the final days of the 2010 elections. Here’s what they told us:

Fundraising appeals right up to the bitter end

Appeals for your dollars used to taper off toward the end of a campaign because, after a certain point, candidates just couldn’t spend the money. Most of their funds in the final days went to buying TV ads, but since there were only so many slots available on television, supply eventually ran out. With infinite more space available in the digital world, though, campaigns can keep buying online and mobile ads up to the end. And if they can keep buying, they’re going to keep on coming back to you for money. Expect to see lots of last minute-appeals for your dollars, both on the web and your mobile devices.

Political ads you can’t escape

Earlier this week, we told you about how many campaigns are planning on using “Google blasts” to blanket the Internet with ads–to recruit volunteers and to secure your support. Expect to see those ads no matter where you go. And forget about trying to escape the madness by watching cat videos on YouTube. Google tells Fast Company that the number of campaigns and issue groups buying “pre-rolls”–those ads you see before your own video starts–has gone up 400% since July, and they’ve doubled in the last month alone.

Facebook bombardments


Sure, if you’re in a state with a tight race, you can expect political ads to follow you onto Facebook, the same way they’ll follow you everywhere else. But in the last days of the campaign, expect to see more precisely targeted get-out-the-vote ads–especially if you’ve friended a political candidate, or even if you’re just a fan of a partisan celebrity, like Rachel Maddow or Bill O’Reilly. Campaigns don’t want to urge everyone to get out and vote–just the people most likely to vote for their side. So they’ll use the information that Facebook users have entered about themselves to place get-out-the-vote ads only in front of people most likely to vote for their side.

Something shocking on YouTube this weekend

The expression “October surprise” traditionally referred to some ugly revelation about a candidate that their opponent dropped into the news cycle sometime in October. In the old days (like, five years ago) that worked. Even though there were weeks until the election, it was often too late for a candidate to recover, given the pace of the news cycle at the time. But with the speed with which information zips around the Internet today, a mid-October release gives a candidate plenty of time to bounce back. So this year, expect to see something drop at the very end–most likely a video on YouTube, either Friday evening or Saturday morning.

Poll-time targeting

Most states have laws that prevent electioneering within a certain number of feet of a polling station. But don’t think that’ll keep you safe this year. If you’ve got a smartphone–and if you’re in the habit of playing around with it when you’re doing boring things like, oh, waiting in line at the polls–be prepared to see political ads leaping out of your apps. Campaigns want to be the last thing you see before you mark that X on your ballot, and they’re going to do their best to worm their way onto your iPhone, Android device, or high-end BlackBerry.

[“Vote Here” image by Flickr user aprilzosia]


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