Maybe not yet, but AOL would certainly like political professionals to start thinking that way — with Google monopolizing search advertising and Facebook dominating the social space, AOL wants to own political display (banner) ads through its Advertising.com platform. Judging from conversations with AOL staff at a launch reception for the company’s new political advertising dashboard, AOL sees what Google and Facebook have done in the political space and sees an opportunity to build a new constituency for online display advertising, something that campaigns have tended to drop in favor of search and social advertising in recent years.
What’s AOL offering? A combination of the broad and the specific: sites involved with Advertising.com reach a huge swath of online readers in the U.S. (more than any other content ad network), allowing AOL to put political ads in front of big pool of potential donors, volunteers and supporters, but crucially the company also has enough demographic data to let advertisers target all the way down to the Congressional district level. AOL’s political site pushes display ads for everything from fundraising to rapid response, and also includes guides to effective banner campaigns and to the specifics of their ordering system.
Will people buy it? In some ways, display advertising is both blessing and curse — a blessing because it’s easy to explain to political consultants and candidates, a curse because banner advertising rarely lived up to its perceived potential in the earlier days of the web. AOL’s new venture does have advantages over past generations of display ads, though, in part because of the success of Google and Facebook advertising — over the past two cycles, campaigns have become more and more used to the idea that they should spend money on internet ads.
And while AOL’s ability to target ads by Congressional district is useful and can only be roughly approximated on Google and Facebook, the company’s other demographic info may turn out to be just as attractive — i.e., you want to reach moms? They’ll give you moms. You want Hispanics? They’ll give you Hispanics. Again, this is targeting that can be approximated on Google and Facebook, based on what people are searching for (Google) or the interests they’ve listed (Facebook), but AOL promises to deliver it directly.
So I bet we’ll see quite a few campaigns and outside groups try AOL this cycle, assuming the company’s sales reps do their jobs and spread the word (thinking about it, it almost seems weird that political display ads are so relatively rare). But whether or not this platform can become the third leg of a political advertising stool will depend on results — and AOL may find the ROI of Google Ads tough to beat.