Running an effective online campaign in a scarce market

Running an effective online campaign in a scarce market
As Election Day nears, the need for alternatives online will grow.

Be it an online money bomb or simply reinforcing the TV spots your campaign is already running, online advertising has become a critical component of most major political campaigns. But the closer Election Day draws, the less space you will find available online to use as an advertising medium.

That makes examining alternatives and planning your strategy in advance crucial, and there are several common-sense ways to do it.  

First, the most obvious: purchase pre-roll ad space as far in advance as possible. Pre-roll space on sites like YouTube is a resource so increasingly scarce for political campaigns that it was the subject of a lengthy write-up on Politico late last week.  

Those pesky pre-roll videos may annoy millions of Americans, red and blue, but if limited to a 15 or 30 second ad you’ve already produced, forcing users to be a bit more patient is worth it.  

Given technology that allows campaigns to target battleground states, districts, cities, and even ZIP codes, the scarcity of online resources has gradually trickled down the ballot. Plotting out the online strategy for a campaign in a swing district in Ohio? Better hope you bought some space ahead of time, because chances are that most of it is now occupied by the Romney and Obama campaigns.

Now, once you’ve acquired an amount of pre-roll space to suit your fancy, there are a couple things to remember. For one, make sure you utilize the resource properly. With all due respect to Team Obama, bombarding Georgians with video of Romney singing “America the Beautiful” isn’t going to flip the Peach State any more than I’m going to have good luck deer hunting this season.

Focus exclusively on areas that rank as must-win for your campaign and maximize your advertising potential without wasting dollars for clicks in areas that aren't winnable.

Second, 15 or 30 second pre-roll ads are the greatest length you should shoot for when it comes to YouTube. I caught plenty of lengthy Ron Paul ads during the height of the GOP presidential primary earlier this year, and I promptly clicked through. I would bet that only the most hardcore of folks, many of whom were already backing Paul, took the alternative route.

So now that you’ve either cornered that market or realized that you should have abandoned dialup sooner, what else can you do?  

A plausible alternative would be transitioning to in-banner ads. Given that traditional banner advertising does not share the same level of high demand as pre-roll, incorporating your campaign’s 15 or 30 second video as a rollover from a viewer scrolling over the ad is a logical option.

For example, take the Romney ad that has inhabited the top space of Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire for what seems like months now. Rollover the ad and you’re treated to a forty-second video, along with the option to be transported to the campaign’s website to donate. Heck, you can even go ahead and specify the amount before you’re taken to the site.

This leads to the most obvious imperative in online advertising. No matter the medium, ensure that you’re presenting prospective clickers with a call to action: “Like”, donate or watch. Regardless of your intention, let them feel that clicking your ad will empower them and aid your cause.

A final element that is crucial not only to your online campaign at-large, but to maximizing the effectiveness of a campaign’s website is re-market advertising. A potential supporter may visit your website without donating or signing up to volunteer, but this will allow you to directly target visitors with your online ads.  

This is particularly useful for congressional contests and other races further down the ballot. Regardless of how high profile a congressional race may be, it will never carry the same attention as a presidential campaign. Re-market advertising opens the door to staying on a voter’s screen for the duration of his or her time online.

In an ever-evolving medium, online advertising demands innovation and staying one step ahead of your opposition. It remains an unperfected art, but it has already evolved from a budding novelty to a necessary requirement for the bulk of well-executed political campaigns.

Brandon Howell is an Account Services Director at Hynes Communications and contributes to the new Peach State political blog Georgia Tipsheet.

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