Election 2008: Money, Media & Influence

Subtle Internet Ads Send Targeted Political Messages

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Specially tailored Internet ads are helping political candidates target potential voters they want to mobilize. The Web is already filling up with ads for Barack Obama and John McCain. Robert Smith speaks with two experts in the field, Democrat Michael Bassik and Republican Cyrus Krohn, about this popular new way of reaching voters.

ROBERT SMITH, host:

In politics, the ads that usually become famous, that go down in history, are usually the TV ones. TV advertising is like the sledgehammer of politics. It's big, it's bold, it gets the job done, but it can be expensive. And in the age of targeted marketing, political professionals need a little bit more of a subtle and refined tool. And that's where our guests come in. They are two of the people who are crafting the Internet strategies for the 2008 presidential election. On the Republican side, we're joined by Cyrus Krohn, the e-campaign director for the Republican National Committee. Thanks for coming in.

Mr. CYRUS KROHN (e-Campaign Director, Republican National Committee): Thank you for having me.

SMITH: And we're also joined by Michael Bassik, who works with Democratic groups. He's the vice president of online advertising at MSHC Partners. Thanks for coming in.

Mr. MICHAEL BASSIK (Vice President of Online Advertising, MHSC Partners): Thanks for having me.

SMITH: Anyone who's been online knows that corporations are very good at finding out things about us. You know, Amazon suggests books to me, and Google scans my e-mail and suggests ads that might be relevant. How good are campaigns at doing this now, Michael?

Mr. BASSIK: They're starting to understand some of these really complex methods of targeting. For example, we are seeing that the McCain campaign is doing something called re-marketing advertising, which is they are serving ads across the Web to people who have previously visited John McCain's own Web site. And they are also using sophisticated behavioral targeting, where they are targeting voters online based on their actual online behaviors. So, did they read weather yesterday? Or are they reading business news and sports news? And therefore, we can deduce that maybe they are a Republican and we should be serving ads to those individuals.

SMITH: Cyrus?

Mr. KROHN: I want to thank Michael for making the case that the Republicans are not behind on the Internet, because this is one of the things we hear so frequently. But...

Mr. BASSIK: I'm trying to be nice.

Mr. KROHN: Oh, thank you. Michael just made a case in point where there is sophisticated online marketing taking place within the McCain campaign as well as within the Republican Party. And it's really a testament to how much we believe the medium plays an important part in this process.

Mr. SMITH: Barack Obama's taking advantage of the, sort of, excitement over who his VP might be to do some targeted online advertising around this issue. Right, Michael?

Mr. BASSIK: Yes, we're seeing advertisements online asking Barack Obama supporters to sign up to receive a text message that will alert them - they will be the first to know who Obama's vice-presidential nominee is. And they are advertising the ability to sign up for these text messages through banner ads online in targeted states.

SMITH: This morning, I typed in lower gas prices, just into Google. And what should come up on the ad but John McCain's plan for a summer gas tax holiday, says his ad. Or if I typed in Obama religion, and I think you probably know what came up first, which was an ad from the Obama campaign that said Barack Obama is a Christian, get the facts at his site, barackobama.com. They are out there waiting for me to do certain combinations of words so that they can pounce when they're ready.

Mr. BASSIK: I think Google has really shown that they are a political powerhouse this election cycle. I think probably more than 50 percent - Cyrus, correct me if I'm wrong - of all political advertising dollars online have gone to Google.

SMITH: Well, Cyrus, at the RNC, do you sit around and think of words that you can buy in Google that will steer Republicans toward you?

Mr. KROHN: We have reams and reams - I guess reams of papers is probably not the right analogy in the digital world - but keywords galore. Energy, of course, is a hot topic right now, and people are searching for lower gas prices at a gas station in their market, and, you know, they type in energy or gas and those are the types of words that we were utilizing to drive users to our site and make sure that our energy positions are stated.

SMITH: I'll give both of you the opportunity to make some news, if you will, as we come up to the conventions. First of all, Cyrus, is there anything the Republicans are planning online to go along with the conventions that would enhance it, make the most of it?

Mr. KROHN: YouStream.tv in particular is going to be doing some interesting things on the floor of the convention that we're excited about.

SMITH: What do you mean by YouStream? What happens there?

Mr. KROHN: YouStream is a service that allows you to stream video live over the Web in a very easy way. And I think you'll see the state delegations utilizing that in interesting ways.

SMITH: Michael, do you know of anything spiffy at the Democratic National Convention?

Mr. BASSIK: I think this will be the first 24/7 convention. We know that television networks have stopped covering the conventions to the extent they used to. And for the first time, we'll have live streaming video of every single - gavel-to-gavel coverage, and we'll have multiple angles. Whereas in the past you might just have had video of speakers, there are going to be hundreds of video cameras posting content not only to the convention's Web site, but to YouTube, and all of the bloggers that have been credentialed. So there will just be a tremendous amount of online content. This will really be the online convention.

SMITH: Michael Bassik is the vice president of online advertising at MSHC Partners, and he works with Democratic groups. Cyrus Krohn is the e-campaign director for the Republican National Committee. Thanks to both of you for coming in.

Mr. KROHN: Thank you.

Mr. BASSIK: Thank you.

SMITH: Our conversation continues online. Go to npr.org/soapbox, and you'll hear how the RNC used Internet campaigning to help get Bobby Jindal elected governor of Louisiana, and how they're applying those lessons to this campaign cycle.

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