Online Political Advertising

The Perfect Storm Of Online Political Attack Advertising

If you like your political campaigns with a heavy dose of anonymous, unregulated political attack ads, you’ll love the Internet this election season…and every election season henceforth. Several factors converge this year to create the elements of a perfect storm of online political mud slinging.

Unregulated Online Speech

First among those factors is the Federal Election Commission decision in March that the FEC would only regulate "paid political ads placed on another person’s web site," according to the AP story.

The decision is a sound one in that it protects political speech by ensuring that online opinion such as that found on a blog would not be considered political advertising subject to campaign finance laws. But the decision also leaves a loophole the size of a television production truck for 527 groups to drive right through.

Blogs As Distribution Channels

The second factor is the rise of the blog as not merely a platform for political speech but, more importantly, as a distribution medium. Traffic to blogs continues to grow, according to comScore Media Metrix: blog traffic is up 56% over the past year, representing 34% of
the total online audience.

Blogs act both as online centers of gravity where popular blogs attract a critical mass of like-minded people as well as micro-influencers of the long tail.

The long tail is an economic concept and phrase coined by Wired‘s Chris Anderson in his article of the same name. The basic argument is that in the digital age, with the distribution platform of the Internet, electronic products such as songs (MP3 files) can find a profitable (over time) niche audience that the physical limitations of the pre-Internet economy made impossible.

The same distribution mechanism works for the dissemination of ideas through blogs. There are countless personal blogs with an audience ranging from a handful of people (a circle of friends) to dozens or hundreds (a niche topical blog). The person behind such blogs is often seen as a trustworthy individual whose opinion is valued by its readers. Content that is distributed through these blogs, therefore, is influential to that small audience. 

On the other end of the spectrum are the aforementioned centers of gravity: large, popular blogs with huge audiences of like-minded people. Political blogs are heavily represented in blog search engine Technorati‘s list of the Top 100 most popular blogs. These blogs also act is important distributors of ideas but it is very much like preaching to the choir.

The Rise Of Online Video

In May, Hitwise reported that "the market share of Internet visits to the 10 leading online video sites has increased by 164 percent in the past three months," with YouTube and as the market leaders. The widespread adoption of broadband Internet access has created an explosion in online video use because the increased bandwidth has made it an enjoyable medium.

The video sites allow anyone to upload their video for the world to see and give anyone the ability to easily display video by providing the code to easily paste into their own blogs or websites.

So, again, these video sharing sites act both as centers of gravity for online video and as a distribution center for the long tail. All a 527 need do is upload their video, get the word out, and watch a million flowers bloom.

The Rise Of Social Networking Sites began life as a social networking site that only recently added video sharing to the mix because of the popularity of YouTube. YouTube, conversely, is primarily a video sharing site that has a lot of social networking features. Both are among the most popular social networking sites, according to data released in June by comScore.

Social networking sites are also seeing a stratospheric rise in popularity, as people are increasingly enjoying the ability to connect with other like-minded people. These sites serve as centers of gravity through which political ideas can be distributed from trusted sources.

Online Examples

The most prominent example of this new form of political marketing can be found at YouTube courtesy of the Ned Lamont campaign. Lamont, the Connecticut Democrat who is challenging Senator Joseph Leiberman, has staked out a large presence at the site to distribute video.

We have some local examples here in Minnesota. Democrat Amy Klobuchar is running for the US Senate seat being vacated by Senator Mark Dayton. She’s running against Congressman Mark Kennedy. While Kennedy has no presence at YouTube, the Klobuchar campaign has uploaded their first TV ad to the site:

Paul Ostrow is a Minneapolis city councilman who is running for Congress in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional district. His campaign has uploaded to YouTube short (less than a minute) video clips of him on explaining is position on a variety of issues. Ostrow explains his position on energy policy:

You will also see freelancers unconnected with any campaign uploading videos as demonstrated with Governor Tim Pawlenty‘s announcement speech:

And, finally, expect a lot of parody and satire video such as this one lampooning Florida Congresswoman Katherine Harris:

[NOTE: I published this first in the Politics In Minnesota newsletter.]

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