Will Google Radio Ads Be a Factor in the ’08 Elections?

Cross-posted on techPresident

At last week’s New Organizing Institute/IPDI-sponsored Google presentation on advocacy tools, after looking at Google Ads and answering questions about click fraud, the company’s Elections and Issue Advocacy team touched on a new tool whose potential political significance jumped out at me. More than a year ago, Google snapped up a company that was developing an online interface for buying radio advertising, and despite some skepticism about its usefulness, the product looks to be moving out of beta fairly soon.

You can get a good overview of how the ordering system will work here; note that you can specify stations by location and genre, set your own budget, choose your time of day to run ads and get some reporting after-the-fact. You upload your own ads as mp3s, though the site will help you find a company to build them if necessary. Groovy! Basically, you can run ads across the country from a single interface — you won’t need to work with different ad reps for individual stations or chains of stations. With 1600 AM and FM stations in the network, and the top 10 stations in 24 of the 25 biggest media markets in the country, Google claims the potential to reach essentially 100% of the U.S. population.

Why do I think this tool might have an influence on the elections? Just as Google Ads made it easy for just about anyone to put text ads in front of millions of searches per day, the company is now removing logistical barriers to running targeted radio ads across the country. Google’s working on a similar product for newspaper advertising (also still in beta), but I’m more intrigued by the potential of audio ads. For one reason, radio audiences break into niches just as online audiences do, making targeting-by-interest a natural function — the system will let you run different ads on different kinds of stations or different parts of the country.

Another thing: radio is an inherently personal medium — because people have to imagine what’s being discussed, radio tends to draw them in in a much more intimate way than television (an observation that gets repeated over and over when NPR has a pledge drive). People are listening to radio on the way to work, while they’re in the office, while they’re driving to pick up the kids, — it’s background noise, information source and artificial conversation all at once. And as Tivo and other DVRs cut into the effectiveness of television ads, radio may begin to look more and more attractive as a political tool.

Since big-league campaigns have their own systems for buying broadcast ads for radio and tv, they (and their consultants) may not want to change the ways they do things currently. But what about the next Swift Boat Veterans for Truth? Google radio ads should make it much easier for outside groups to influence the political process — think about ads in favor of pro-immigration candidates on Spanish-language radio, or environmental campaigns going to evangelical stations to promote environmental solutions as good stewardship of Creation. And, a nasty rumors campaign is a little more under-the-radar if it’s on niche radio rather than broadcast television. Of course, these groups could run similar ads NOW, but the combination of easy-to-produce audio files and a central web interface for ordering should make the process infinitely easier.

Web-Enabled Offline Activity

If political Google radio ads do take off, they’ll be just one kind of web-enabled offline activity that we should see playing a big role in ’08. As some of us never tire of repeating, the sexy stuff like online video gets all the attention, but the behind-the-scenes use of the ‘net to organize real-world behavior may well matter more. Think of downloadable neighborhood walk lists for local volunteers, for instance, or virtual phone banks, something that MoveOn has used repeatedly (you sign up online and receive a script and a list of numbers to call). Just as MeetUps helped Howard Dean translate online support into offline action, these new tools will be all about making change happen in the places where we actually, you know, live.


Written by
Colin Delany
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  • I am looking forward to seeing how this new tool is used by others. I played around with it a little bit today and was disappointed to find that some metro areas (like Washington, DC and Miami, FL) are missing along with entire states (like Maryland). I am guessing that coverage will expand over time.

  • If Google executes their radio advertising program similar to how they’ve executed their search engine programs, advertisers will be able to 1) control their ads, 2) test their ads, and 3) revise their ads… all in real time. That means marketing dollars for candidates will go farther.