One day to go – Let’s look at political ads (while we can)

I’m sure voters in at least 10 states have had their fill of political ads by now. For the rest of us however, there’s only one day to go before most of the ads go away. So let’s take a look at the online political advertising landscape while we can.
Surprisingly, I would have expected political paid search advertising to peak in October. However, we are seeing a similar phenomenon as in retail where the peak spend is achieved a little early. The chart below shows that for at least in paid search, spend actually peaked last December and has been steadily dropping since (with a big drop in September). This is most likely due to a drop off in bidding since the primaries. Overall though, the numbers aren’t particularly large so we can safely assume that the campaigns are reaching voters primarily through other channels.

political paid search spend

Barack Obama has consistently spent more online than Mitt Romney. Perhaps this is to be expected giving the different demographics of the two parties’ supporters. What is interesting is that the Obama campaign stepped up their online advertising back in August of 2011,

barack obama PPC spend-thumb

In comparison to 2008, we are finding that both campaigns spent the majority of their online spend on branded terms. The Obama campaign’s top non-branded keywords were focused on social issues such as “Obamacare”, “Iraq war”, and “pro choice”.
barack obama PPC keywords-thumb
In contrast, The Romney campaign targeted keywords related to the economy, such as “romney economy”, “obama tax plan”, and “small business ideas”. (We also noted the inadvertent targeting of Mitt Romney ads to the phrase “www.ppsc.gop.pk”, which is the site for the Punjab Public Service Commission. Gotta stay on top of those negative matches, Mitt!).
mitt romney ppc keywords-thumb
In terms of keyword selection (2606 keywords for Obama vs. 96 keywords for Romney) as well as impression share, we have to conclude that the Obama team ran a much better paid search campaign than Romney.
top impression share in political

Display Advertising

We saw different strategies being used in display advertising. This is an important difference because as display is a push medium (as opposed to paid search, where ads are served based on well-defined searches), display ads may better reflect what the campaigns perceive as important issues. And where paid search ads tended to be more positive and matter of fact, display ads (particularly Obama’s) were negative and contentious.

For instance, Romney’s display ads focus on cutting federal spending and regulation, strong defense, repealing Obamacare, and cutting the Federal budget. In addition, many ads were soliciting small donations from voters:
mitt romney display ads-thumb

In contrast, Obama display ads were decidedly more negative. Among the more prominent ones were messages such as “Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want to take away a woman’s right to choose”, “Romney’s tax plan: Families with kids pay $2,000 more. Multi-Millionaires like Romney get a $250,000 tax cut”, and “Obama: Doubled Pell grant funding. Romney: Student aid at risk for millions”.
obama display ads-thumb

Interestingly, we found primarily text ads used within the Romney display advertising campaigns, while Obama used a healthy mix of Flash, banner, and text ads. From an advertising perspective, point to Obama.

As in paid search, the Obama team appeared to run a more effective display campaign. On the 7500+ websites we monitor, Obama garnered 48M pageviews in October to Romney’s 23M.

Interested in gathering your own statistics? Check out AdGooroo’s Industry Insight service.