Fri October 26, 2012

In Swing State Colorado, Even Online There's No Escape From Political Ads

TV isn’t the only place those annoying political ads are popping up this election season.

They’re also on YouTube, Hulu and Facebook, where campaigns are targeting younger potential voters, who don’t watch traditional TV.

More than $277,000 in online ads have targeted Colorado voters so far, according to Federal Election Commission data analyzed by the CU News Corps. That likely leaves out national online advertising for presidential candidates that doesn’t target specific states.

“All I get is political ads. I think I've gotten one or two other types of ads recently,” said Brent Hebert, a junior at the University of Colorado. “Some are really long and you can't skip them. It's almost gotten me to get AdBlock. Normally I am like, 'It's OK, they paid for it,' but it's getting absurd.”

Political groups will spend an estimated $9.8 billion on advertisements this election cycle, according to a report by advertising consultants Borrell Associates Inc. The $159 million spent on online advertisements seem like a drop in the campaign bucket, but online spending is up 615 percent from the last election cycle.

Credit Timothy Vollmer / Flickr - Creative Commons

Anupam Gupta, CEO at Mixpo Inc., a Seattle-based advertising company specializing in online video, said that Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign set the trend for political advertisers to go online.

“To be honest, political has been one of the sectors that has been kind of late to the online game,” Gupta said. “Digital has become a key piece of any advertising strategy, even political, and that’s why you are seeing more activity this year than last time.”

The type of online advertising campaigners can’t get enough of is called pre-roll advertising. It’s the videos users see when YouTube or Hulu tells them that the “content will return shortly.”

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican from the 6th Congressional District, is using online video ads in his reelection campaign. Coffman for Congress 2012 paid $9,000 to a Florida e-marketing firm in September. Spokesman Owen Loftus said the campaign was using pre-roll as well as user-activated banner video.

“This is a great way to reach voters. More and more people are using the Internet to get news. More and more people are using it to watch videos online or TV shows online,” Loftus said. “This is just another opportunity to reach them.”

Loftus said the right media mix was important for political advertisers. Coffman’s campaign puts interactive video banners on news websites such as Denverpost.com to reach older online users who don’t use YouTube as frequently as younger voters.

"Digital has become a key piece of any advertising strategy, even political, and that's why you are seeing more activity this year than last time."

Democratic opponent, Joe Miklosi, spent almost $3,000 on Facebook advertising. Spokesman Ryan Hobart said that paid ads on the social media platform helped create followers for the Miklosi Facebook page that number more than 5,700.

“They are people who are very engaged and will share information with people who friended them on Facebook,” Hobart said. “It’s a good way to give information to people who are interested in the campaign and have them share it with their wider network.”

He added that social media was not a substitute for more traditional means such as TV ads, which reach people who might not have prior interest in the campaign.

Colorado’s U.S. House candidates have spent more than $188,000 on online advertisements and web video targeting Colorado this election season, according to Federal Election Commission data.

Independent groups have spent almost $89,000. The biggest independent online spender in the state was conservative super PAC FreedomWorks for America, which spent $85,000 on web ads supporting Coffman and opposing challenger Miklosi.

Campaigners like online advertising because it can target specific demographics and interest groups.

“Online has always had good targeting capabilities that have only been getting better,” Mixpo CEO Gupta said. “If you want to target based on what kind of content they are reading, what kind of interest they might have, you can do that.”

Interest group targeting, however, adds to the confusion of some viewers. Marissa Sieck, a senior at the University of Colorado, said she was receiving Spanish language ads.

“It's interesting, depending on the different music I am listening to, the specific ads that come with it,” the international affairs major said. “I listen to a lot of Spanish and Latino music, which then turns into Spanish ads for Obama.”

The CU News Corps is a class in Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Colorado aimed at providing student-produced news stories to Colorado and national media outlets.