Over the past decade and a half political campaigns have fought desperately for the new battleground that is the internet. Campaigns are in a perpetual race to spend more money and resources on online advertising than their opponents and their predecessors. The ads themselves have transformed from simple slogans and banners to viral videos and ads on social media. Many of the factors that are driving the rise of the online advertising are the same factors that have kept the ground game alive in recent years.
The Kreiss and Barnard piece outlines the rise from the 2000 election through the 2012 election. The internet was still in its infancy in 2000, so naturally online advertising was as well. Kreiss and Barnard describe the banner ads that focused on AOL, a site that has completely lost its popularity in the time since. However, really starting with the 2004 election and Howard Dean, campaigns began to truly invest in online. Metrics were able to show the effectiveness of an ad in producing site visits, an incredibly important step for campaigns. The Kerry campaign invested heavily by hiring MHSC Partners. The authors describe the use of the internet as an alternative for the campaign to mailings that young peoples were not opening. This really sets a tone for online advertising as a necessary way to reach young people who spend such large portions of their time online. The Obama campaign in 2008 expanded online advertising to new levels. Videos went viral and the famous ‘Change’ picture and other ads were everywhere online. In the 2008 and 2012 elections the authors show how metrics became crucial to the online efforts of the campaigns. The campaigns were soon able to gather exorbitant amounts of information about their ads’ effectiveness and about the people online. This led to the ability to truly target voters in the 2012 election with online ads. The Obama campaign had a likeliness to vote score in 2008, which evolved into a likeliness to be persuaded score in 2012. The campaign could match online and offline identities and data in 2012 and they also increased the use of social media and mobile channels, (Kreiss). All of these factors allowed the campaign to more effectively target voters in certain places and with certain ads.
The evolution of the ground game as described by Nielson has followed a similar pattern. Despite a lack of enthusiasm in the ground game in the ’90s and its accompanying decline, the 2000s have brought a renewed focus to it due in large part to an increased ability to target. While the conversations, or content, of the ground game has remained largely the same as in 88 or 68, the number of contacts has increased dramatically, Nielson said. He attributes much of this success to new technologies that gather metrics on who to target. Nielson finds that the advantage in the ground game is consistently held by the side with the better infrastructure and data. The Republicans had the advantage in 2004, but Howard Dean later stepped up the Democratic efforts with a new database and improved targeting infrastructure. The information gathered through Dean’s efforts would greatly aid Obama in the 2008 election, (Nielson). Targeting has grown concurrently in the ground game and online, in large part because the technologies are quite similar and the general approach is the same.
A piece by Macnamara and Kenning looks at trends in online political campaigns in recent years. They focus on Australia, but tie in the US and extrapolate their findings to a global stage. They describe the 2008 US election as a turning point in the use of the internet and social media in campaigns. According to them, online campaigning is a one-way conversation through advertising rather than a conversation between the campaign and the people. That puts the campaign entirely in charge of manipulating their messages and targets.The volume of advertising online has increased, but the interactivity of the efforts has decreased. They assert that this is a problem going forward because of voter apathy that is prevalent and even growing, especially among young people, (Macnamara).
A 2012 article in The Guardian by Brett Wilson also documents the rise of online advertising in political campaigns. The important part for Wilson isn’t the mere rise in spending, but the targeting and delivery of the messages. He touts the immediacy of the internet and its flexibility to change targets in minutes. Specific audiences in specific areas can be immediately targeted on key issues that pop up or mistakes by the opponent. Voter registration data, knowledge of previous behavior and opinion surveys give the campaign the ability to customize their advertising more than ever before, (Wilson).
Some people are disconcerted by the amount of personal information political campaigns can gather and use. However, to the campaigns it has busted open doors of opportunity in online advertising in the same way it affected the ground game. Like it or not, the information age is here and political campaigns will increasingly take advantage.
Kreiss, D., & Barnard, L. (2012). A Research Agenda for the Effects of Online Political Advertising: Surveying Campaign Practice, 2000-2012.
Nielson, R. (2010). Ground Wars: American campaigns between door-to-door and databases.
Macnamara, J., & Kenning, G. (2014). E-electioneering 2007-13: Trends in online political campaigns over three elections. Media International Australia Incorporating Culture and Policy, (152), 57.
Wilson, B. (2012, November 1). US presidential election 2012: Targeted online video ads redefine tactics. The Guardian.