Newspaper Sites Boost Political Advertising

Online political advertising remains high on the agenda of newspapers, with separate seminars held this week by The Washington Post and The San Diego Union Tribune’s SignOn San Diego. The Washington Post seminar was coordinated with The Laredo Group as part of a sales training effort, while the San Diego event was put on by The E-Voter Institute (which I serve as an advisor).

At the San Diego event, Tacoda leader Dave Morgan touted the incredible addressability of online sites via issue-based targeting; life stage targeting; message segmentation; re-targeting and the ability to combine ad campaigns with demographic targeting, thanks to newspaper registration efforts. Through New York Times Direct, he marveled, “The New York Times sold people who are particular to particular columnists,” such as Republican moderate David Brooks or Liberal Paul Krugman.

Morgan also noted that the revolution in targeting is soon to go cross media, as 60 million IPTV boxes are installed over the next 4 ½ years. San Diego neighborhoods served by Cox Cable are part of a test of Cox’s Visible World technology, and can already be targeted on a house-by-house basis.

But the political consultants, ad agencies, and vendors gathered at the San Diego meeting didn’t seem convinced that tele-democracy has arrived – except for fundraising and communications. UCSD Professor Thad Kousser, for instance, joked that “you should raise all your money on the Internet, and spend it all on direct mail.” But he also felt that campaigns should have door-to-door volunteers collect email addresses, which can be used for followup and reminders to vote. “Email is the #1 thing on the Internet,” he said.

Former Air America Chairman and Kerry For President Internet advisor Mark Walsh, however, noted that candidates themselves get overwhelmed by email. “They say they love it but they hate it,” he said. Politically, Walsh said that the Internet is emerging as “the ultimate destruction machine” where fingerprint-less bloggers will spread gossip that will make Kerry’s Swift Boat slanders seem routine.

Consultant Bill Hillsman, who has run campaigns for Senator Paul Wellstone, Governor Jesse Ventura and others, said that Internet-centric campaigns in New York and California have positioned their candidates as “with it.” But they have resulted in terrible name recognition and poor results at the polls. “You can’t annoy people into voting for your candidate,” he said.

While Internet efforts can’t move the needle on a national or statewide effort, however, there was some agreement that it could be useful on a micro-level scale, perhaps building-to-building. Local search was also considered potentially important, although there was little experience with it — something that might get addressed by the next election cycle.