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The War for Interactive Campaign Space

April 10th, 2007

Millions of dollars are poured into presidential ad campaigns every year, but this year brings something new to the electoral race — 2008 candidates have entered the blogosphere.

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal discussing the major increase in political dollars spent on Internet ads and Web development per election cycle. It was eye-opening to see that spending for the 2008 election is projected to reach $80 million for online advertising (ten times the amount spent in the 2000 election).

Maybe these politicians aren’t as old-school as I thought…

It got me thinking – where’s all this money being spent? Reports show that political candidates are hiring professional bloggers to not only write blogs for their own websites and internal purposes, but also to monitor and report back on the positive and negative blogs written about them. By responding to blog entries written about them, candidates send the message that they’re willing to engage in an interactive dialogue with both their supporters and their challengers.

Candidates are bucking traditional benchmarks here. Instead of relying on polls, focus groups, research and statistics, candidates are using online support as a true measure of their popularity among the public. Going interactive makes their campaigns more accessible and reaches all age levels.

After talking about these presidential “interactive” campaigns with a couple of my staff members yesterday, I opened up today’s Wall Street Journal to read “New Outlets for Political Junkies” on the cover of the Personal Journal section. The article discusses big Internet sites who are implementing new tools and features to engage web users in the 2008 presidential campaign.

These sites have attracted candidates’ ad campaigns, too. The article mentions that Barack Obama recently posted a question on a new Yahoo election portal which asked voters how to get people more involved in the democratic process. Hillary Clinton wasn’t far behind her challenger, Obama. On the same site where Obama posted his query, Hillary asked users to comment on how to improve health care based on their personal family experiences. The response generated more than 38,000 responses – some with in-depth plans on how to revamp America’s healthcare systems. There’s even a YouTube channel for candidate-generated videos where users can post video and text responses. Could these candidates actually be practicing a democratic interaction here?

Even conventional candidates like John McCain and John Edwards recognize that the public wants to have their voices heard. Think about it…

Edwards posted his announcement to enter the race on YouTube. He then asked viewers to text message him if they’d like to join his OneCorps organization.

McCain’s mobilizing his supporters online with McCainSpace, an oh-so-clever handle that invites visitors to connect with other supporters, creating go-anywhere dialog among constituents. He also combines the old and the new with a virtual town hall where users can submit questions and videos via YouTube for direct response from the man himself.

Barack Obama’s interactive website encourages visitors to create a user profile and pairs well with his declaration that he’ll be our country’s next most impacting agent of change. He’s reaching out to younger generations by creating a dynamic technological relationship via the web. The Chicago Tribune reports that well over 4,000 blogs have been written on his site since its inception. Not to mention his supporters who’ve spent mass amounts of effort and personal time to promote voters to vote different in a rendition of an old Apple Super Bowl commercial they revived on YouTube. Again, we’re not talking traditional advertising here. It’s effective, captivating and has generated more buzz on TV and radio than any other candidates efforts this year. Even though Obama isn’t “responsible” for the ad, it works. And it works well.

I never thought I’d say this, but as marketers and advertisers, we can follow a great example set by ambitious politicians: consumers want to play an interactive role in their consumption. As the new era of blogs, YouTube and online networking takes a stronger hold, we’ve got to continue to invite our audiences to be an integral part of – and sometimes even create – the campaigns.

Posted Under: Digital & Social Media, Media & Journalism, Viral & Guerilla Marketing
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