NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The end of an election season usually means dismantling the campaign apparatus until the next cycle. But not at Google; not this year.
Google organized a political-sales force in spring 2007 in a bid to capture a bigger share of the record political spending ahead of the national election. Rather than packing it all away until 2010, it's hoping to build a year-round political-advertising business one House seat and hot-button issue at a time.
"There are 500,000 elected officials in the U.S. With the advances we've made in geo-targeting, we think this will be part of every political campaign in the country, as well as issue campaigns," said Peter Greenberger, Google's director of election and issue advocacy.
Barack Obama and John McCain spent about $19 million on online ads in their campaigns for president, about 4% of the $450 million spent on all media, according to OpenSecrets.org. Google took $7.5 million of the $14 million the Obama campaign spent online, according to ClickZ analysis of campaign filings. The McCain campaign spent $4.65 million online, also heavily concentrated on search.
None of this is lost on a generation of political pros looking to apply the lessons of 2008 to the political struggles ahead. "People saw what Obama did, and they are adapting to how the world has changed and using his techniques," Mr. Greenberger said.
Rebecca Donatelli, Mr. McCain's online campaign manager, said she sees search, once primarily the domain of national and statewide campaigns, playing a bigger role in local races, where budgets are tighter and candidates more obscure.
"If you are a candidate for House of Delegates in Virginia, you are not going to rise organically to the top of the [search] page," she said. "Search is the game."
Google doesn't yet offer targeting based on congressional districts, but with ZIP code and city targeting, politicians and advocacy groups can cobble together a reasonable approximation of a congressional district.
Google's political group consists of Mr. Greenberger in D.C. and four salespeople in New York. With groups mobilizing to advocate for and against various remedies to the financial crisis, they expect to stay busy. The 2008 campaign ended Nov. 4, but issue spending hasn't: $42 million was spent on TV in the month after the election, according to TNS Media's Campaign Analysis Group.
The financial crisis has been a boon for political advertising. Instead of using the web to sell cars, automakers are using it to sell a political idea: that they need a federal bailout to weather the economy.
"If you are going to try and get smart on the auto bailout, you are not going to get that from a 30-second spot; you are going to get your research online," said TNS Campaign Analysis Group Chief Operating Officer Evan Tracey.
In fact, Ford Motor Co.'s campaign to improve its image, "The Ford Story," is the first Ford campaign run entirely online, said Scott Kelly, digital-marketing manager. The "Ford Story" site was built in five days in November. "We are trying to use search to change and shape the opinion of people of Ford rather than convert people who are in the market [for a new car]," Mr. Kelly said.
The search terms Ford has bought include "Detroit bailout," "Big Three bailout," "automotive bailout" and "fuel-efficient vehicles."
Fortunately for Google, there are well-funded forces opposing federal assistance for the automakers, such as former House Majority Leader Dick Armey's Freedom Works.
Freedom Works has been spending heavily on Google, sometimes to target districts of more fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats to persuade them to vote against spending federal money to keep companies afloat.
"If there are certain members we want to target, where a member of Congress is on the fence, we can target those areas," said Thomas Keeley, Freedom Works online marketing coordinator. The group has been on the losing end of the bailout debate but considers its campaigns successful based on the number of referrals to microsites such as nowallstreetbailout.com.