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For NYC Candidates and Independent Groups, Online Advertising is Part of the Mix

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, September 17 2013

With Bill de Blasio's victory in the New York City Democratic mayoral primary, much of the post-primary analysis on how he did it has been on the effect of the so-called "Dante" ad. The spot prominently featured his biracial son talking about how his father offered a different agenda than Michael Bloomberg, emphasizing affordable housing and an end to the practice of stop & frisk.

But TV wasn't the only place the ad was seen. As Michael Barbaro from the New York Times reported Wednesday "it was downloaded 100,000 times before it was even advertised online and was watched well beyond the five boroughs, including by 2,000 people in Texas." The ad was also shared or liked more than 3,000 times on Facebook. As of last Tuesday, de Blasio's video channel on YouTube had around 390,800 views, with the most popular clip being that one video with around 173,500 views.

The de Blasio campaign also chose to forgo traditional targeted campaign mailings, as the Times also reported. But in addition to focusing money on television, the campaign also spent money online.

Overall, de Blasio spent almost $3 million on voter outreach, according to his filing's with the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Of that amount, around $2.9 million went to TV advertising. But around $26,000 was paid to Precision Network for online ads. In addition, listed in the category of "other spending," de Blasio gave an additional $35,000 to Precision Network for online ads and $22,000 to Precision for consulting. The expenditure records are complete as of August 26, with the next filing deadline on September 20.

There are no other public records showing exactly where those ads were placed or how many people they reached. But in the days before the election, de Blasio ads were seen often running before YouTube videos as pre-roll.

In addition, according to the campaign finance records, the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East independently spent around $480 on promoted tweets and Facebook posts in support of de Blasio, out of a total of nearly $200,000 spent overall.

Jessica Singleton, digital director of the de Blasio campaign, said the online strategy helped the campaign reach voters where they were. "When you're seeing pre-roll ads around that's part of the full package of digital tools that we're using," she said. Both Singleton and campaign manager Bill Hyers are veterans of the Obama campaign, and Singleton said that elements of the de Blasio campaign involved "applying lessons of the Obama campaign to the unique conditions of New York City elections." Even if digital spending was not always the most important aspect of the campaign, Singleton said that digital strategy was a high priority, with herself among the first staffers hired for the campaign. "The ads online are amplifying what voters were seeing on TV and [online] is where a lot of people are getting their information now, it's a recognition of that, you can't run a campaign in 2013 without that," she said.

She emphasized how online ads offer the opportunity to voters to immediately click to join the campaign. Online outreach was a new opportunity to make sure the campaign's message was reaching all New Yorkers and to connect with the campaign's "really engaged" following, she said. She highlighted how de Blasio's Twitter account took ownership of the hashtag #TaleofTwoCities to tweet out facts about New York City's economic inequality, posts that ended up being the campaign's most retweeted tweets. "So there's a whole pride associated with the message of the campaign," Singleton said, and the possibility of having a progressive Mayor such as de Blasio, and "online gives the [engaged supporters] the way to show their pride and to do something about it."

Second-place finisher Bill Thompson spent around $2.3 million altogether on outreach, of which around $2.2 million went to TV advertising. But he also paid $120,600 to the Campaign Group for online advertising and $12,500 for radio ads on Pandora, which allows for geotargeting. In addition, United for the Future, the political committee of the United Federation of Teachers, spent $100,000 on online advertising in support of Thompson, though the majority of the $3.3 million it spent to support him and other candidates went to traditional mailers. His YouTube channel had only around 12,200 views.


City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who had drawn a lot of vocal and financial support from some in the technology sector, seems to have spent less on online advertising. In the voter outreach category, her campaign reported spending around $1.75 million overall, of which $1.7 million went to TV advertising. She also paid nearly $2,800 to Facebook and $5,000 to Centro Media for Google ad services. Her YouTube channel had around 84,700 views as of Tuesday. One of her videos featured Star Trek actor George Takei, who is known for his viral online posts and also endorsed her on Facebook, eliciting some negative comments.

However, Quinn also faced negative advertising from the Anybody But Quinn campaign not only offline but online. The independent expenditure group NYC Is Not for Sale behind the campaign spent $17,800 on Facebook advertising and $20,000 on another targeted Internet ad opposing her, out of the nearly $770,000 it spent overall . The group disclosed the content of its Facebook ads to the NYCCFB.

While the campaign of fourth-place candidate John Liu did not spend any money on online advertising himself, People for a Better New York, an independent expenditure group affiliated with two public sector unions, spent almost $135,800 on online ads, including on the New York Times website, its sole expenditure in the campaign.


The Republican candidates also took advantage of the online advertising arena. The other week, the New York Times had highlighted the particular challenge those candidates faced in trying to find Republican voters in overwhelmingly liberal New York City. .

Winner Joe Lhota spent around $1.5 million overall on voter outreach, of which nearly $463,000 went to Target Enterprises for TV advertising and around $290,000 went to Target Enterprises earmarked for "cable and digital ads." He also paid $3,000 to SCM Associates for digital ads and $12,000 for online ads with City and State, the publication focused on New York government.

In addition, New Yorkers for Proven Leadership, a political action committee led by former Giuliani aides, spent $15,000 on online ads in support of Lhota, out of a total of $120,000 spent.

In the days leading up to the election, Lhota campaign ads featuring former Mayor Rudy Giuliani ran on YouTube. So did those of his ultimately losing opponent, John Catsimatidis.

The New York Post highlighted how the two campaigns were also hitting each other with negative ads on Google. In addition to ads running on Google, on Election Day, a promoted tweet encouraged users to vote for Catsimatidis.

Among most of the candidates, spending on social media advertising was generally on the low side, ranging from the Lhota campaign spending $150 on Facebook and $31,40 on Twitter to de Blasio spending $1,000 on Facebook and the Quinn campaign spending around $2,800 on Facebook. And social media spending did not seem to help those candidates who were already facing long odds. Catsimatidis, who self-financed his campaign, spent nearly $9,000 on Facebook. Long-shot Democratic candidate Sal Albanese spent around $8,000 on Facebook, and around $246 on Twitter. Long-shot Republican candidate George MacDonald spent around $711 on Facebook and $68 on Twitter. Independence Party candidate Adolfo Carrion spent around $4,400 on Facebook and nearly $5,000 on Twitter out of a total of $32,000 spent on voter outreach.

Michael Bassik, a former political advertising strategist and currently U.S. Digital Practice Chair at public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, said he found it encouraging that several of the candidate were using different types of online advertising to reach voters. "While the candidates still seem to heavily favor traditional media, there's still significant room for growth for digital in the candidates' media budgets," he said. "While television still offers campaigns the ability to reach the greatest number of voters, the Internet combines the qualities of broadcast advertising with the qualities of direct mail targeting....the Internet is the only medium that offers both interactivity and exploration." Especially with so many undecided voters in the New York campaign, online ads that let users click and find out more about a candidate's position could have played a role helping voters make an informed choice late in the game, he said.

He also emphasized that online ads are extremely efficient from a targeting and cost perspective. "When you advertise on television, you don't know if anybody watched," he said. "There is literally no waste in an online advertising campaign. Advertisements are only shown to those in your target audience who are actively using the medium." He added that with many forms of online advertising, candidates incur no fee for the ads' exposure, but only pay when an ad is clicked on, meaning they are "only paying for active voter engagement." He noted that unlike broadcast networks, online platforms are not obligated to disclose political advertising expenditures, even as many campaigns pay advertising agencies rather than pay online publishers directly. "Over time I suspect more candidates will be willing to invest more funds to reach targeted voters on the Internet, but so long as TV remains a dominant and effective medium, candidates will continue to maximize TV advertising budgets before exploring alternative media options."

In addition to online advertising and unpaid, direct social media outreach, the candidates also used some other tools. de Blasio, Quinn and her opponents, the Anybody But Quinn campaign, all used Thunderclap to spread their message to their supporters and beyond. The Quinn campaign published a Buzzfeed post highlighting her father, and writer Lizz Winstead published a post in support of De Blasio.

Google Trends also shows the potential and challenges of positive and negative publicity. Over the past month, de Blasio and Anthony Weiner drew the most interest in the New York City area, alternately at the top, but for very different reasons. As of last Monday, de Blasio was ahead, followed by Weiner, and Thompson just above Quinn, though she had been ahead of him at other times in the month. A recent update to the Google Trends interface showing spiking searches in relation to overall search volume indicates de Blasio was third in "trending politicians" among U.S. searchers in August, after Bashar Al-Assad and Beau Biden.

The New York Times noted Friday the growing role of independent spending in the New York City races, including the groups associated with the Anybody But Quinn campaign, linking it to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. And independent groups were also active in other races, making use of online advertising. Planned Parenthood's political action committee spent nearly $3,000 on online ads in support of successful Queens Borough President Candidate Melinda Katz, out of a total of nearly $7,500 spent overall. And in Brooklyn, the the Progressive Brooklyn Action Committee spent $13,600 on click-through ads in support of City Council candidate Carlos Menchaca in its successful bid to oust incumbent Sara Gonzalez, linking to a website attacking her record in response to Hurricane Sandy, out of a total of around $38,000 the group spent overall. The Small Business Coalition spent $722 on an Internet ad opposing Brooklyn City Council candidate John Lisyanskiy, who ended up coming in third place, part of the around $210,000 it spent overall. Those ads linked to the website, which is currently only still accessible through Google Cache.


Even though there was some dispute over the legality of taking photos at poll sites, many voters celebrated the election on Twitter with "#voterselfie" photos and Vines outside their polling places in an effort promoted by WNYC and the New York City Campaign Finance Board. The Board of Elections responded on Twitter to some reports of election problems.

Meanwhile, Scott Stringer narrowly won the race for New York City Comptroller over Eliot Spitzer. He acknowledged his win with a very simple tweet:

with Rebecca Chao