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Obama's Online Ad Spend Approached $8 Million

BY Kate Kaye | Friday, November 7 2008

(Crossposted from ClickZ)

If a recent online political ad revenue prediction is correct, President-elect Barack Obama's campaign could account for at least half of all 2008 online political ad spending. The winning candidate's campaign shelled out nearly $8 million through October to Google, Yahoo, Facebook, news Web sites, ad networks, and in-game ad firm Massive.

Obama Spend-O-MeterGoogle remains the clear winner of Obama's Web spoils, though the search giant's payments for October have yet to appear in the campaign's Federal Election Commission filings. The company collected $3.5 million from Obama for America, according to the latest FEC reports analyzed by ClickZ News. Keeping with a trend established early this year, Yahoo remains a distant second, having garnered around $673,000 from the campaign. A total of $7.97 million was spent on Web ads in '08 through October by the campaign, according to FEC reports.

Borrell Associates predicts spending online by 2008 political advertisers to hit $17.7 million. Earlier political ad forecasts indicate online ad spending will total as much as $110 million.

Notably, the campaign spent over half a million dollars on social networking sites. Facebook has scored the lion's share, taking in over $467,000 -- $370,000 of which was spent in September alone. Community Connect, publisher of BlackPlanet.com, got around $61,000 from the campaign, which ran display ads on the site, and had a featured profile of the candidate on the social network's homepage. Early in the year the campaign spent a small amount -- $11,500 -- on MySpace, but expenditures paid to Myspace soon disappeared from Obama's FEC reports.

Reaching out to blacks on the Web was clearly an important component of the campaign's strategy. In addition to running ads on BlackPlanet.com, almost $138,000 was spent on BET.com. The messages in the ads targeting blacks, however, do not appear to have been any different from other Obama ads seen across the Web. Throughout most of the year, the campaign urged Web users to "Join Us," the goal being to get them to sign up to receive e-mail or text messages, donate money, attend events or volunteer. Before primaries and the general election, ads promoted voter registration and early voting, and suggested voters click through to find their local polling place.

Although the majority of ads bought by the Obama camp were served by online ad networks, several publishers sold ads directly to the campaign. Time Warner (most likely CNN.com) grabbed the biggest direct buy, totaling over $337,000 by October. Politico also did relatively well, collecting $146,000. WashingtonPost.com took in $100,000.

Site publishers that sold ad space direct to the campaign weren't all news and politics focused, though. The Weather Channel Interactive, a geo-targeting no-brainer, received over $108,000 from the campaign. Another somewhat unexpected recipient of Obama's abundant ad spend was NBA.com, which collected about $21,000 in September, just in time for pro basketball training season.

Ad networks, however, enabled a great deal of performance-based ad buys for the campaign, allowing it to target potential voters based on location, demographics, interests, and possibly previous Web behavior. More than $600,000 was paid to a variety of networks throughout the year, including AOL's Advertising.com, Collective Media, Undertone Networks, Burst Media, Quigo, DrivePM, Pulse360, Specific Media, and online video networks Broadband Enterprises and Tremor Media.

The ability to target ads locally is important to any political candidate using any medium, but Obama's campaign took local targeting to a new level. Before several state primaries, and then again before the general election, the campaign customized online ad creative for residents of different states. During the primaries, display ads with tailored messages showed up on news sites in Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and others. Later in the year, a variety of state-specific ads appeared, telling people to "Register to Vote for Barack Obama and Other Candidates For Change," and providing the last day they could register in their state in order to vote.

In addition to targeting geographically through ad networks, the ads showed up on local sites through firms specializing in local media. Centro, a local media buying firm, handled many of these local TV and newspaper site buys, taking in close to $630,000 by October. Cox, which offers digital local media, received $100,000 in October.

One online buy that piqued interest outside ad industry circles was Obama's in-game advertising buy in October. The campaign placed ads pushing an early voting message in EA games, including a racing game called "Burnout Paradise," targeting them to players in 10 battleground states. According to a recent FEC report, the campaign paid Microsoft-owned in-game ad network Massive $44,465 in October, probably for those very ads. The Obama camp also spent around $250,000 with Microsoft itself during the year, most likely for MSN search advertising.

Senator John McCain's presidential campaign has not broken out individual online ad expenditures in its FEC reports.

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