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Sunday, June 13, 2004

The Internet Campaign: Walking Precincts on the Web

Stateline headlines, 'Online campaigns still an art, not a science' but says, "The Internet is evolving from a novelty item to an integral campaign tool as many candidates at the state level try for the first time to tap the political power and wealth of the online world."

Here's a brief look at what is going on in electronic campaigns.

Spam Organizing

Let's say you need to build a crowd of 1000. Do you organize volunteers to make 10,000 phone calls or do send a single email? I'd do both but if I could only do one I know which one is easier.

Kerry has an Online Action HQ while Bush's Action Center is geared more toward traditional efforts. But both seek to engage visitors and capture information for future use.

"According to Bush/Cheney e-campaign manager Chuck DeFeo, emails were "geo-targeted down to the individual" by featuring maps and directions from recipients' homes to polling locations. "We're focused on empowering grassroots supporters," DeFeo asserts."

And "according to Rand Ragusa, president of Internet campaign management company Voter Interactive, the John campaign sent emails to opt-in registrants in New Orleans-area zip codes to rally support before the Blue Dog Democrat visited the city. "It really shows from a strategic standpoint how candidates are using ZIP code targeting to boost attendance at events," Ragusa suggests.""

Internet Fundraising

While the candidates are slow to fully exploit the power of the internet, only the most foolish of candidates hesitate to provide a secure area for credit card contributions. In 2000, John McCain provided a glimpse of this potential when he raised millions after announcing. Political onlookers should have been paying tuition to see Howard Dean's lesson in online fundraising.

The Seattle Post-Intelligence noticed, "Nowadays, it's easier than ever for the causal contributor to channel money to the candidate of his or her choice by simply logging onto the Internet and clicking the mouse." They report Kerry has raised $41 million online.

Mark Simon breaks this down, "Kerry's online presence is distinctive because it is a "direct-response marketing campaign, and the ads are judged on the dollars raised," said Morra Aarons, the Kerry campaign deputy fund-raising director. By that measure, the Kerry campaign has $57 million from "grassroots" donors, $35 million raised through online-related efforts that include e-mail, online ads, house parties and other appeals that steer donors to online ads and the campaign Web site, Aarons said. "We've tried risky strategies that have paid off for us," Aarons said, "tapping into untraditional channels for grassroots fund-raising, such as online fund-raising, to reach supporters we would normally reach through direct mail and telemarketing." Kerry's campaign began testing online ads in November and made a big move in March with a solicitation that raised $10 million in 10 days, "which tipped off the notion we were on to something," Aarons said."

Internet Ads

While campaigns are making money off the internet, they are still slow to reinvest.

Still, CNN reports, "Presidential campaigns and the political parties are venturing into virtual advertising this year like never before, leading some Internet industry analysts to anticipate a banner year for political advertising online."

CNN continues, "Michael Cornfield, research director at George Washington University's Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet, said he expects record-level spending on Internet ads this year. But regardless of the growth, he said such advertising is unlikely to make up a significant portion of each campaign's overall advertising budget, which typically is eaten up by the high cost of advertising on television."

In case you're wonder why, "Because most media budgets are controlled by traditional media firms," suggests [Rand] Ragusa, "these tech guys have an uphill battle in establishing the value of their services and establishing a benchmark on fees."

In an article on traditional political ads named, 'Dumb and Dumber' the Atlantic notes William Benoit, "found that from 1952 to 1996 the average number of issues covered in Republican ads rose by 115 percent, and in Democratic ads by a kamikaze 519 percent." Atlantic continues, "Twenty years ago the standard "buy" for a political ad was 400 gross ratings points, meaning that on average people would see it four times. "Today," [Craig] Varoga says, "the rule of thumb is that you need to do a thousand points a week -- more when you're in the heat of the campaign."" In other words, consultants cram too much into ads which forces them to run more ads which has brought us to our current situation where campaigns commit the majority of their budgets to TV (i.e. good news for consultants on percentage). Also, compare the hourly rates for consultants of TV on percentage vs. round the clock, seven days a week, online dominance.

Meanwhile, Mark Simon quotes "officials" as saying, "More than 40 percent of users who view the Kerry ads watch 46 seconds or more of a 60-second ad, a rate of attentiveness that far outstrips the typical TV viewer."

The Atlantic closes by saying, "Either trend -- a fresh medium or a fresh approach -- could eventually provide the impetus to break the consultant stranglehold. But not soon enough."

The Puget Sound Business Times issued this prediction on internet ads, "soon the level of sophistication, interaction and depth may unseat TV and create an unprecedented look into the heart of campaign politics."

Online Targeting

Kate Kaye reports, "However, even more than demographic targeting, geographic targeting is critical to election campaigns. Geo-targeting goes beyond bombarding battleground state residents with presidential campaign TV ads. Today, candidates in local, statewide--and yes, presidential elections--are using the Web to target right down to the precinct."

The Chronicle quotes a Pew study saying, "Among Americans who get most of their campaign news from the Internet, 21 percent are ages 18 to 29 years, the largest bloc of people who get political news off the Web." Politics will be forced to notice as this trend matures.

Taegan Goddard's Political Wire agrees, "Swing Voters Like The Net: The most interesting finding from the latest New Democrat Network poll: "While television is still the dominant source of news, this poll shows that the Internet has emerged as a major source of news, comparable in reach to radio. Indeed, among swing voters, 11 percent say that the Internet is their major source of news compared with 7 percent who say radio. Nationally, 12 percent say radio is their main source of news."

Internet Campaigning to Commit Acts of News

CNN notices, "Web ads are sometimes designed to get the attention of reporters -- as opposed to voters. And when reporters broadcast or write stories about the ad, they get even bigger play."

Additionally, CNN explains, "There's another benefit to Web ads -- they're cheap. Spending on television campaign ads runs into the millions of dollars, but ads on the Web only cost in the thousands."

Thus, campaigns are realizing they can invest a little money to make news online and reap television time. Better yet, the TV time isn't in the form of crappy political ads that people distrust but instead it is news, complete with third party validation.

Political Blogosphere

Rachel Smolkin, in a great American Journalism Review story on political blogging, says, "Yes, in these hardened, cynical times, amid angst over media conglomerates and homogenization of news, political junkies are using cyberspace to opine and whine, to preach and beseech. And the news media are gingerly following the people's lead." Smolkin continues, "Political blogs add to the cacophony of 24/7 information sources available to journalists and the public. While cable news endlessly repeats political headlines, Weblogs chatter over inside information that mesmerizes the junkies."

Chris Lehane puts the political blogosphere into historical perspective by suggesting, "It is the modern-day equivalent of precinct organizing, and it certainly injects a grassroots element back into national campaigns."

While the unofficial blogs drive round the clock debate, the official blogs provide a spark for the flame wars of the political blogosphere. Just look at the left: Kerry has a blog; the DNC has a blog; the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has a blog; the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has a whole site of blogs and the site itself has a blog; America Coming Together has a blog; Music for America has great blogs; Howard Dean's Democracy for America also has a blog.

It seems every political hack in America seems to have a blog. Time Magazine thinks, "We may be in the golden age of blogging, a quirky Camelot moment in Internet history when some guy in his underwear with too much free time can take down a Washington politician. It will be interesting to see what role blogs play in the upcoming election."

Bush vs. Kerry Online

Visiting the official campaign sites for John Kerry and George Bush it is readily seen that Kerry seems to be attempting to offer more of a positive vision and organize while the Bush campaign seems to focus on bashing Kerry.

Howard Dean's site is still the high water mark, as both Kerry and Bush seem reluctant to fully unleash the potential of internet politics. Yet the significant online battle being waged by the two candidates and their supporters provides a glimpse of a political future dominated by real-time campaigning.

The San Francisco Chronicle's Mark Simon says, "Both campaigns have begun running distinct advertising packages -- a melding of campaign TV ads, campaign videos and specially tailored messages -- on sites all over the Internet. The scope and nature of the online campaigns are a first for a presidential election and reflect the dramatic growth in the number of Americans who rely on the Internet for news, particularly political news."

Going Negative Online

According to CNN, "Web ads tend to hit a lot harder than their TV counterparts. Why? For one thing, they're not bound by campaign finance laws and aren't required to include disclaimers."

Remember: , "There is ample scientific evidence that, despite widespread public distaste for them, negative ads are the most effective kind, because people are more apt to remember negative information than positive information." This analysis suggests the strategic potential of using the internet to bash the shit out of your opponent. In this area, I think we all know the worst is yet to come.

Electronic Dirty Tricks

As always, I saved the best for last. The google bomb is great tool in an electronic hack's bag of dirty tricks. Just last week, Kos noticed that GOP operatives had google bombed "Democratic National Convention" to bring fake sites to the top of the list.

The first google bomb was the infamous "talentless hack" campaign. The google bomb tactic quickly spread to politics with "weapons of mass destruction" and "miserable failure" hitting Bush before the right came back with "waffles" against Kerry.

Blogsnow says "miserable failure" is ranking #1 with "waffles" following in the number two spot. Speaking of google bombs, have you recently visited the site of US Senator Rick Santorum-Pennsylvania or searched for him on google?

Zack Exley of moveon fame and now Kerry's director of internet organizing reportedly "doctored photos of then-Governor Bush with cocaine residue under his nose. Exley also posted fake campaign statements under such headlines as "George II: Restoring the Throne to its Rightful Heir."" on his site.

Cloak and dagger efforts will only increase this world of political denial of service attacks, campaign hacking, and electronic dirty tricks.

- Bob Brigham
Online + Campaigns + Politics + Elections + San Francisco + News + Blogs + Presidential + Battleground + Senate + Congress

P.S. Joe Trippi's new book "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Seizing Power in the Age of the Internet" comes out in July. Meanwhile, even the Canadians are using online campaigns.

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