Campaigns Turning More to Online Videos

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, April 3, 2006

The day after Lynn Swann (R) launched his bid this year for governor of Pennsylvania, his campaign Web site posted "Lynn Swann's Video Blog." It featured inspirational music and Swann speaking to the camera, along with shots of him on the stump before cheering crowds.

With buttons to send the Web page address to a friend or send the campaign a contribution, Swann's team hoped the Web video, which ran for a little more than two minutes, would catch the attention of voters who are hard to reach with more conventional messages.

"Less people are watching regular TV -- they're watching more channels, they're watching TV in a time-shifted environment," said Justin Germany, 26, a campaign consultant who crafted the video in a few hours. "And yet there is a hunger for this, and that's where Web video comes into play."

Political campaigns have begun to understand what corporate America already knows: Multiple sources of information and entertainment are making it more difficult for advertisers to reach their target audiences through traditional TV spots. Now, consultants say campaigns are turning to online video -- which can have more emotional impact than a TV ad -- as a form of targeted media to reach particular groups.

"The problem is fragmentation. In 1982, a media planner could go out and buy ABC, NBC and CBS, and reach 80 percent of the market," said Bill Caspare, a veteran of political advertising who recently started an online video company. These days, he added, "they have to buy 57 stations and get 57 reporting mechanisms to get 80 percent. All of the sudden, the Internet becomes much more relevant."

Audience research shows that the proportion of people watching broadcast TV has declined by about 30 percentage points in the past 20 years. An increasing share of people who do watch uses new technology such as digital recorders to skip commercials.

Campaigns started to tap the Internet as early as 2000 for fundraising, and the 2004 presidential campaigns launched a number of online videos. This year, political consultants expect their use to expand substantially in Senate and House campaigns -- a preview of an even greater breakout in 2008.

"I wouldn't be surprised at all if Web advertising goes up to 20 to 50 million [dollars] by 2006 and even greater by 2008," said Evan Tracey, who tracks online advertising at TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG. Political spending online in 2004 was about $10 million, he said.

Targeted video falls into two categories. One is paid candidate ads on online portals, news publications and other sites. The other is videos produced by the campaign or supporters and posted on the campaign Web site or other political sites.

"If you're running a congressional race and [the candidate has] 300,000 voters in his district and he's got to spend money on television that reaches outside the boundaries of his district, he's really wasting money," Caspare said. "With the Internet we can now define the market for him by reaching out specifically to where his voters are."

Consultants say they can serve advertisements to Web users based on their Zip codes, interests and even behavior. Instead of targeting geographically, "if somebody shows interest by going to the politics page [of a news site], then you follow them around the site, and only serve ads" if they fit certain criteria, said Chris Young, founder of online video company Klipmart.

Michael Bassik, vice president of Internet advertising at political consultant firm MSHC Partners, said campaigns can also learn a wealth of "demographic and geographic data" about ad viewers.

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