A study conducted by Internet marketing research firm Rimm-Kaufman Group, found that there was not a particularly significant use of paid search ads during the 2006 election cycle. The study is less than pure, in my view, because it includes any ad with political content, including some third party advertisers selling buttons on CafePress who are unaffiliated with any campaign. Still, some of their conclusions are notable. For instance, red ads outnumbered blue ads two-to-one. And blue ads were three times more likely to be negative than red ads. Other reports reveal that Republicans are more likely to buy search terms, while Democrats are more likely to advertise on blogs.
That set me off to wonder what the presidential candidates were up to now. So I did searches of all the known candidates and compiled the results below.
Republicans seem to be first out of the starting gate in the paid search arena.
Mitt Romney returns ads for both himself and John MCain. Curiously, McCain’s ad is labeled “Mitt romney” but points to ExploreMcCain.com
John McCain returns an ad for Romney on Google, but an ad for himself on Yahoo.
Rudy Giuliani returns an ad for Romney on Google, but an ad for himself on Yahoo.
Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, and Sam Brownback, all return ads only for Romney.
Gingrich, Pataki, Gilmore, Thompson, Paul returned no ads at all.
Democrats are more thinly represented in the search ad-stakes.
Bill Richardson returned an ad for himself.
Tom Vilsack returned an ad for himself.
Wesley Clark returned an ad for his podcasts, which might not be campaign related.
Clinton, Obama, Edwards, and Kucinich returned no ads at all.
President 2008 returned ads for Romney and Bill Richardson.
Campaign 2008 returned ads for Giuliani on Google, McCain on Yahoo, and Colbert/Stewart on Yahoo (I don’t think they have announced yet).
Conclusions: Romney is clearly the most aggressive advertiser with his name displaying on searches for himself and five other candidates. I wonder if his neglect of the rest of the field (including Gingrich) is a clue as to his opinion of their competitiveness or likelyhood of entering the race. Romney and McCain are the only candidates to advertise on competitor’s search terms.
The most striking observation is that none of the leading Democrats are advertising at all. Obviously, it is still early, but these ads aren’t expensive and they can generate traffic and help to channel prospective supporters. Republicans are in this game by themselves. This is surprising because previous studies suggest that there is an ideological disparity in media preferences. The Red Media/Blue Media divide shows Democrats leaning toward the Internet as a news source. Since the Internet is perceived to be friendly to progressives, why have they not pursued a greater presence?
I also did searches of five issues – Iraq War, Social Security, Global Warming, Civil Liberties, and Minimum Wage. There were no candidate ads returned in any of them. This seems like an opportunity slipping away.
I’ll update this survey on an irregular schedule as the campaign proceeds.