Switching to Guns: Political Air Wars Come To The Internet

A new article from Google alum Chris Talbot, continuing the focus on getting out the vote in the last days before the election. Find out more about Chris at the Talbot Digital site and on Twitter. Also see his previous article covering online rapid response.

Switching to Guns: Political Air Wars Come To The Internet

Chris Talbot

“Too close for missiles, I’m switching to guns….”

Much like the onscreen aviators in Top Gun (cue the nostalgia, YouTube!) American politicians find themselves in a dogfight this week — and have taken to the airwaves to do combat. But with seven days to go before elections, the television advertising market is swamped with political messages from all corners, marking a challenge for campaigns that need to distinguish themselves among undecided voters. To boost their impact, campaigns are putting more resources into digital advertising — a match made in heaven for their fat TV budgets. But how can a campaign make the most of those final dollars? While the objectives are quite the same as those of traditional media purchases, the methods and strategies of the online media space are unique.

Last week Vincent Harris had a nice post on this subject at TechRepublican. Vincent is one of the sharper young online strategists in the GOP, and the post hit on some core components of a quality digital ad effort. It’s worth a read for the operatives and tacticians out there. Here are a couple edits and additions to that fine start:


The “Facebook Fan” is a hot commodity these days — not just in political campaigns, but for all organizations marketing in America. Don’t wait until Election Day to seek the help of your fans (Facebook ads can target them exclusively with zero waste): this week hit your fans with direct requests: sign up to make phone calls, knock on doors, and volunteer on election day. Meetup’s Scott Heiferman has said it before, with vigor: “Use the internet to get off the internet!”

Behavioral and Profile Advertising

Wall Street Journal readers, you may have heard that online advertisers are out to steal your soul. Not true (well, not all true, anyway). What is true is that a few camps are starting to do the same things that smarter, richer, and faster advertisers were doing two years ago (outside of politics): using ad networks and exchanges that deliver highly sophisticated, highly personal ad targeting. These remain way underutilized in politics — mostly because campaigns have yet to realize how well the technologies can pinpoint voter groups. For all the money campaigns pour into polling and research to identify the small share of persuadable voters, it is remarkable how many of them neglect the most efficient way to put a message in front of these top targets.


Vincent nails this one. This is perhaps the biggest no-brainer out there which plenty of campaigns have somehow missed. It’s cheap, simple, and works across many objectives (acquisition, fundraising, press/influencer communications, GOTV). Step One is to install retargeting code. Step Two comes when you realize all the useful ways to leverage the custom audience sets you’ve just created.

Blasts? Bombs? Surges?

Call it what you will, but Google has done a wonderful job delivering geographically-targeted strikes in the final days and hours before an election, making it simple and cheap for campaigns to run GOTV ad buys. Many benefits of the Google Blast can be realized through other ad vendors as well — Facebook and AOL come to mind, but the list goes on — and each offers a different set of options and pricing. The best approach for running a high-intensity blast campaign is to utilize a basket of options, then have your media team optimize your targeting based on realtime prices. You’ll get more bang for your buck.


On the day when first you see data about mobile web usage in America — and your jaw drops — don’t say you weren’t warned. The so-called Third Screen is ubiquitous, addictive, and less than two feet from your person nearly every hour of your life. Mobile ad inventory remains astonishingly cheap, with unparalleled geographic targets — such as a polling station on election day. As voters stand in line at polling places, tapping away on their touchscreens, use mobile ads to make the final case for your candidate before they step into the voting booth.

Chris Talbot is the founder & President of Talbot Digital, a Democratic media and communications firm in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @talbotdigital.

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