10:55am

Wed August 29, 2012
Politics

As Political Conventions Take Over Primetime, Campaigns Head Online

  • Nathan Heffel reporting for Morning Edition

As the Republican National Convention takes over prime time TV this week, and the Democratic National Convention starts next week, politics are clearly in the spotlight. Political campaigns are flooding broadcast television, but they’re also diving deeper into social media to find perspective voters.

Turn on your TV and you’ll see a fair share of political ads. However this can easily fixed with the advent of TiVo and DVR machines that allows you to flip past commercials to your favorite TV show.

But despite that, you can’t hide from political ads in a swing state like Colorado. They’re popping up everywhere – including Facebook, Twitter and even on YouTube videos.

In-Stream Advertising

Click on a link, and it could begin with a political advertisement. It’s called an in-stream ad, and while it’s annoying – it’s not going to go away any time soon, says Erika Franklin Fowler. She’s an Associate professor of Government at Wesleyan University in Middletown Connecticut.

“Well, certainly campaigns are evolving as technology has evolved.”

Fowler is director of the “Wesleyan Media Project” – which analyzes political advertising on TV in real time during elections.

“You have a front and center seat for the Presidential campaign in a way that many other places don’t. So if you are in Los Angeles or if you are in New York City you’re seeing very few ads relative to places like Colorado where you’re just getting inundated on every possible platform to which you turn.”

Political Campaigns Making Concerted Online Effort

In fact, political campaigns are making a concerted effort to enter the online world and bypass traditional broadcast media to reach as many voters as they can – and not only with ads, but with interactive campaigns targeted to specific types of voters.

“[Around] mid 2000, I’d say the Republican’s were much more savvy about this. They were sort of the first to engage in more what we would call a micro-targeting strategy in the televised ads.”

A new report released by the Pew Research Center says while the Republicans were the first to micro target advertising, the Democrats and President Obama have the advantage over the Republicans this election cycle when it comes to reaching voters online.

Fowler says campaigns are now taking a hybrid online and TV approach to micro targeting votes. And that’s not necessarily seen as a bad thing says Mike McDevitt. He's an Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

“With social media, there are possibilities for sharing, social interaction, and discussion. But basically, through television, you’re exposed to the ad -but unless there’s a friend or a family member sitting next to you, you don’t necessarily talk about the ads.”

Civic Information Leaders

McDevitt says the use of social media by political campaigns – especially among Latino youth – increases what he calls “civic information leaders.” Meaning they are much more likely to fact check an ad and re-post the information to their social networks.

“I think that to the extent that youth in Colorado are more likely exposed through social media to a particular type of ads that their parents are not seeing that might be a good thing in terms of promoting political discussion in the family.”

Even though the number of states inundated with TV ads has dropped from 20 twelve years ago to roughly 9 this year – there is no evidence that four years from now the TV political ad will be a thing of the past.

But with prices for weekly ad buys on television costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, Erica Fowler of the Wesleyan Media Project, says people need to get used to seeing ads on their tablets and smart phones.

“We are starting to track online ads, and certainly there will be much more of that as we go into the future, and certainly as campaigns look to branch out, and especially when we have a narrowing of the field.”

And with estimates showing 68% of voters head online before heading to the polls, both political parties will no doubt be working for the next four years to perfect their online campaign strategies making you wait, just a little bit longer for your favorite YouTube video.