Colin Delany March 5, 2008

How Are Candidates Spending Their Money Online?

Cross-posted on techPresident

Update from the Politics Online Conference: some quick numbers from Patrick Quinn of PQMedia on how candidates are expected to spend their money online in 2008. First, online spending should total roughly $73 million at all levels in the ’08 elections. Second, email marketing is still dominates expenditures, taking up 62% of campaigns’ online spending. Web development is next on the list at 27%, with display, search and video ads taking up the remaining 11% of online budgets. For comparison, the 2004 numbers were 74% for email, 19% for web development and 7% for ads.

Quinn attributed the increase in development spending to the growth in both online fundraising and the number of local candidate sites. Email’s relative decline (though don’t forget that it’s still by far the largest piece of the pie) is due in part to a greater emphasis on backend technology for fundraising as well as to email’s slow, steady decline as a mass communications tool in the face of deliverability issues. Online advertising suffers, he said, because political communications professionals don’t yet see it as a local medium (they clearly haven’t fully appreciated the power of geotargeting). Quinn also pointed out that while these numbers are projections, reality has matched PQMedia’s predictions through the election cycle to this date.

Also at the panel, Kate Kaye from ClickZ looked specifically at online display (banner) ad buys in the campaign so far: McCain and Romney together have bought roughly 70% of presidential display ads, with the Obama campaign taking up all but a small fraction of the remainder. With that in mind, she raised the question of whether or not an Obama/McCain race in particular could lead to a jump in online ad spending.

As National Journal’s Alex Treadway pointed out earlier in the day, though, political professionals will be reluctant to embrace online ads as a tool until the online advertising world finds ways to make it easier for consultants to place ads, particularly when they’re dealing with many different sites. I wonder how much the 15% cut of TV ad buys that media consultants often take affects their thinking? A year ago I heard Michael Cornfield make a similar observation, saying that consultants will resist shifting spending to online marketing until they can figure out a business model that lets them make money off of it. For reference, Michael Bassik noted at today’s panel that commercial marketers spend closer to 10% of their marketing money online — vastly more than their political counterparts.

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