The defense company EADS North America is locked in a bitter feud with the Boeing Co. over who will build the next fleet of aerial tankers for the Pentagon.
If you are a Facebook user who expressed an interest in national security issues or who lives in a Gulf Coast state, you may be hearing from the people who want to build a new refueling tanker for the Pentagon.
EADS North America, the aerospace company that is in a fierce public relations battle with the Boeing Co. to win a $35 billion Pentagon contract to build the next generation of aerial tankers, is turning to Facebook and other new media to whip up grass-roots support to help its case in Washington, D.C.
Along with conventional spots on radio and in print, EADS has been buying ads on websites such as Facebook and Google to urge those with an interest in the defense project to contact their lawmakers.
Guy Hicks, an EADS spokesman, said corporations have taken note of how politicians effectively used social media in the past two elections.
“That has spilled over into the private sector,” he said. “This isn’t a transitory fascination. We are seeing a tectonic shift in how we tell our message.”
The social media advertising allows the company to more finely target its advocacy ads to those who indicate on their profiles that they are interested in defense issues or live in places where the tanker is slated to be assembled — particularly Alabama, where the main EADS manufacturing facility would be.
Facebook, which has been criticized by privacy advocates for its use of personal information for marketing purposes, has seen an uptick in advocacy advertising, including during the recent debate over health care.
“When there is a big policy issue, I think people are getting a bit more savvy about reaching the right audience,” a Facebook spokesman said.
EADS and Boeing have ramped up their advertising recently as the decade-long struggle over the tanker reaches another important deadline. On Friday, both sides must deliver to Pentagon officials final revisions to their proposals to build 179 aerial tankers.
While procurement officials are expected to select a contractor in the following weeks or months, many of those involved in the effort are skeptical that the highly political portion of the fight will end anytime soon.
Any decision by the military is likely to be challenged, and lawmakers will remain involved because they must approve the funding for the tankers.
Hicks said EADS wanted to ensure that the public and lawmakers were receiving adequate information and “not simply reacting to polemics.” In particular, the U.S.-based subsidiary of the European Aeronautics Defence and Space Co. wants to dispel allegations by its opponents that much of the project will not be built in this country.