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Candidates' Web ad tactics differ

September 05, 2008|Jim Puzzanghera | Times Staff Writer

It's been hard to avoid Barack Obama's distinctive red, white and blue "O" logo on display ads as you tool around online, particularly on news sites. In contrast, the star logo of his Republican presidential rival John McCain's campaign hasn't shined as brightly across the Web.

That's because the Democratic presidential candidate has focused much more heavily on display ads, according to data released Thursday by ComScore. In contrast, Nielsen found last month that McCain had outpaced Obama on search-engine ads.

Obama's campaign averaged 91,740 display ad views a month from January through June, ComScore found. The campaign had 244,276 in June alone. In contrast, the McCain campaign averaged 7,435 display ad views per month for the same period.

Obama's display ads were "almost universally positive" and focused on increasing awareness of his campaign, said Andrew Lipsman, a senior analyst at ComScore Inc. McCain's display ads often focused on specific issues, with a mix of positive and negative messages, Lipsman said.

"Although the Obama campaign has been using so many more display ads, they're all general brand-building ads. They all ask you to join the movement," Lipsman said. "They may be missing an opportunity to speak to more fragmented audiences about specific issues."

Reaching those audiences appears to be McCain's tactic. Data from Nielsen/NetRatings show that the McCain campaign targeted search-based ads -- text ads displayed when a term is typed into a search engine -- more than Obama in June and July. (ComScore, which competes with Nielsen, doesn't track that data).

In July, for example, McCain had 15.1 million search ad impressions, compared with just 1.2 million for Obama. The Obama camp questions the data, saying Nielsen understated the campaign's search ads. When it came to display ads, Obama had 416.7 million impressions in July, compared with 16.5 million for McCain, according to Nielsen.

As part of McCain's search-based ad strategy, his campaign has been more aggressive than Obama's in buying so-called ambush ads -- sponsored links that appear next to a competitor's search results.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the McCain campaign had outbid Obama for ads that appear with Google search results relating to Joe Biden, Obama's running mate. Google users who clicked on the ad were directed to a video on the McCain campaign website of Biden criticizing Obama during the Democratic primaries.

The Obama campaign, which has been widely praised for its Internet savvy and use of new-media tools such as text messages, seems to have adjusted. A Web check Thursday found the only sponsored link for Google searches of Biden was an ad steering people to the Obama website.

The Obama campaign had the top sponsored link for Google searches of "Obama" and "Barack Obama" as of Thursday. But the McCain campaign has the top ad alongside searches for "Barack Hussein Obama." Some critics of Obama, who is a self-professed Christian, use his middle name to try to link him to Islam.

On Thursday, the Obama campaign had the only ad alongside results for "community organizer," an early Obama job that speakers at the Republican National Convention mocked Wednesday.

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jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

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On latimes.com

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