AOL Instant Messenger users in battleground states and in the Washington, D.C., metro area are receiving a new kind of campaign advertisement designed specifically for broadband users with always-on connections.
The November Fund, a 527 group largely funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that claims to be “dedicated to telling America the truth about trial lawyers and their efforts to stop legal reform,” has begun delivering a 30-second video commercial to AIM users by pushing it out while theyre connected. This is the first time analysts have seen this technique, which AOL calls “Buddy Video” in a national campaign.
The AIM streaming videos are part of a larger buy covering all of AOL, according to Craig Karnes, vice president of Internet campaigns at Democracy Data & Communications, the Alexandria, Va., agency handling the AOL media buy for The November Fund.
“Our target is women aged 18 to 49,” Karnes said. He said the ad is running during prime business hours so it will reach his audience while theyre at work.
Karnes noted the growing popularity of AIM as a business communications tool. The ad, which bashes trial lawyers and vice presidential candidate John Edwards, is designed to run when the AIM client starts, and remain quiet but visible at other times.
While The November Fund, also based in Alexandria, Va., is a leader in such advertising, its not alone. According to AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein, the Democratic National Committee is its biggest advertiser and will be running similar ads in targeted areas on AIM.
Weinstein said his company no longer has a specific age or gender demographic as its typical user. “We cross all demographics,” he said. “We reach the majority of people who vote.”
While political groups have been using the Internet at least for the past two presidential cycles, the process of pushing streaming video seems to be a political first during this election. “This is a new wrinkle,” said Michael Cornfield, senior research consultant at the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Getting an Edge
Cornfield suggested that such ads, aimed at relatively young voters, might be an effort to develop a lifelong loyalty. In addition, such efforts speak to the closeness of the 2004 election. “Getting them is a way to get an edge in a deadlocked election,” he said.
Cornfield also noted that its too early to tell whether the AIM video ads will be used by groups such as The November Fund in the future. “Its dependent on the perceived results,” he said, adding that the Republicans have abandoned banner ads because they werent seen as being effective.
But the video ads might have a longer life. “Our results show click-through rates that are three times normal,” Karnes said. He said his studies also indicate that most people receiving the video ad watch it for the entire 30-second run.
Karnes said this type of ad is successful for his client because of a low rate of negative responses coupled with some passionate support, usually from members of the medical profession.
Overall, this form of advertising, along with other political advertising on the Internet, is going to grow. “Its more effective than direct mail or billboards,” said Randy Flood, CEO of the Commonwealth Policy Institute Network, a nonpartisan, virtual think tank based in Washington. “Its only going to grow,” he said.
While Flood wonders how effective the ads will be, he said he thinks theyll be effective enough to become a standard part of campaign fare. “Its the wave of the future,” he said.
Wayne Rash is author of “Politics on the Nets” from W.H. Freeman.