Rep. Joe Wilson used Google AdWords to direct controversy-spurred Internet searches to their official websites.
With more and more constituents looking for information about their Members of Congress online, offices and campaigns are spending more time and energy focused on online advertising. While traditional banner ads and video advertisements that play before or during online videos continue to be used, some offices and candidates are reaching out to constituents.
A favorite for attracting traffic to Congressional campaign websites is Google AdWords. With AdWords, the search engine giant allows advertisers to bid against one another to see who can place their text-based advertisements on a search result page. Advertisements are targeted to appear alongside specified search terms and within specified locations. The winning bidder gets an ad displayed alongside the organic search results until another advertiser places a higher bid.
According to Wesley Donehue, CEO of political Internet firm Donehue Direct, Google AdWords is the place to start when people are looking to find out more about a candidate or current Member. Donehue’s firm has worked with Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who became the target of much Google searching after he yelled, “You lie!” at Obama during a 2009 speech.
“When a hot news story breaks and people want to learn more about it, [Google] is the place to go,” said Donehue, who helped Wilson direct traffic to his campaign website after the incident.
Herman Cain’s presidential campaign used Google AdWords earlier this year. For a while, searching terms related to the sexual harassment claims being levied against him — including the name of one accuser, “Sharon Bialek,” or “Herman Cain Scandal” — would bring up sponsored results linking to his campaign material.
Targeting Constituents The advertising technique that is gaining in popularity for Senate campaigns and House offices and campaigns is Facebook ads, which can now be narrowed down to target certain ZIP codes.
According to a blog post by Facebook that was last updated about four months ago, targeting by ZIP code was introduced to give advertisers better access to users in more specific locations.
“Intentionally or not, ZIP codes have become particularly useful for detailing definable community populace attributes. Most influential research on demographics, including the U.S. Census, use ZIP codes as their most fine grained level of segmentation,” the blog post says, explaining that the targeting “opens up another avenue for advertisers to market to their desired audience.”
According to franking rules, House offices can advertise online, as long as the advertisements are directed only to constituents and do not include pictures of the Members.
Facebook’s ZIP code targeting is mostly accurate in directing Congressional ads to that Member’s constituents, said Andrew Foxwell, manager of new media and marketing at iConstituent, a digital communications firm that has worked with more than 300 Congressional offices and has done ads for 90 of them.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.