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Meg Whitman Rolls Out Poll-Slash-Ad on Facebook

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, July 28 2010

When last quarter wrapped, California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman (R) was reported to have spent on web development IT a full seven times what her challenger Jerry Brown (D) spent on his entire campaign. The Whitman campaign was unapologetic. A spokesperson told the local paper that Whitman's Silicon Valley-based campaign "will use every tool at our disposal" in Whitman's bid to replace the term-limited Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Enter a new tool. Last night at 9pm, the Whitman campaigned rolled out on Facebook what the company calls a "polling ad." Companies like Budweiser, Chase, and CareerBuilder have paid for similar ads, but Facebook says it believes that Whitman's poll ad marks its first use in a political contest.

What makes a "polling ad" unique, at least from Facebook's perspective, is that it marries traditional online advertising with the social tools that make its platform so powerful and popular. Whitman's "A New California" poll-slash-ad, for example, asks users to vote on which California issue is most important to them, in light of the state's high unemployment rate, budget deficit, and school woes. Voters can see not only how the entire universe of Facebook users have responded to the poll ad, but also how their Facebook friends, in particular have voted -- complete with tiny avatar photos of your friends under each polling option. Other ads in Facebook's so-called "Engagement Ads" suite include ads that let users leave comments, send gifts, or "like" a brand directly from the advertisement's interface.

As of this afternoon, some 6,200 people had voted in Whitman's poll/ad. "Creating jobs" is in the lead, with 43% of the vote. "Cutting state spending" and "Fixing education" nearly equally share the rest.

"The Facebook ads play an important role in our aggressive strategy to build our online community of support and engage younger voters in the campaign," said Whitman campaign spokesperson Sarah Pompei when asked why they're investing in the polling ads. "This is just the latest in the innovative communication tools our campaign is using to build the groundswell of support for Meg's agenda."*

As for the Brown campaign, a spokesperson dismissed the ads to the LA Times as "more gimmicks."

*Updated with comment from a Whitman campaign spokesperson.