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The Calculus of Mayor Mike's Online Ad Blitz

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, November 6 2009

(With Nick Judd)

When it finally came time to tallying the votes late Tuesday night, New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg's victory over Democratic challenger and city comptroller Bill Thompson turned out to be remarkably narrow -- and surprisingly so, in part because of the gap the size of the Hudson between what the candidates spent on this race, some $81 million from Bloomberg's pocket to the $6.6 million Thompson dropped according to recent filings. What's particularly interesting for us here is how that difference in spending played out not only offline, but online as well.

PaidContent's Joseph Tartakoff reports that once and future Mayor Bloomberg poured some $2.1 million into online advertising though late October. And those records thus don't include Bloomberg's burst of web ads during the last week of the campaign, a blitz that made him nearly ubiquitous for online New Yorkers. A Google rep described that network-wide spending burst as "massive."

Indeed, spending records from the New York City Campaign Finance Board show that Bloomberg handed over more than two million dollars to Connections Media under the category of "Internet ads." Do the math, and it turns out that out of the whopping $145 that Bloomberg spent to pull each of his voters into the polls on Tuesday, just about $3.75 per voter went to buying Google ads and other online advertising. The DC-based Connections Media is headed up by web veteran Jonah Seiger.

Thompson, on the other hand, spent about $13 per voter, in his 46% to 50.6% defeat at the hands of Bloomberg, and while Thompson's spending records don't break down online advertising costs as cleanly as Bloomberg's do, the underdog Democrat laid out just $205,000 in consulting fees to the Obama-affiliated firm Blue State Digital. The one spending burst identified as going directly towards online ads came at the end of August, and rang in at just $10,000.

Both candidates, though, spent multiples more on television advertising than they did on online ad spots. Here too, getting Thompson's buying power anywhere in the neighborhood of Bloomberg's would require shifting the decimal point. Bloomberg handed over $29.5 million to the DC firm Squier Knapp Dunn, and Thompson spent $1.7 million in TV ads, directed to the Philadelphia and California admakers The Campaign Group.

When all is said and done, the number reflect just out outmatched financially Thompson was in his competition with Bloomberg, online and off. Thompson, for example, spent just slightly more on the web gurus Blue State Digital as Bloomberg paid in postage.

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