The progressive blogosphere spends a lot of time discussing campaign strategy. Every day, thousands of times over, we critique campaign messaging, debate the quality of ads, muse about targeting strategies, and suggest new lines of attack. The problem is, as Matt has often pointed out, the only help the Obama campaign wants comes in the form of campaign donations and volunteers to work on field operations. So, no one is really listening to our suggestions. We are not making a difference on messaging.
There isn't anything wrong with donating to the Obama campaign, or in volunteering to do voter registration, phonebanking, or other forms of field work. Those are important things to do, and there is real pride and dignity to being a political volunteer. The problem is, if you feel like I do, that it just isn't enough. For one thing, the Obama campaign has been consistently losing ground for the past two plus months, so it doesn't feel like what it is doing is working. Second, not everyone's best political skills lay in field organizing, especially if, like me, you are introverted (I've done some real field work, but it has been painful). Third, donating to a campaign is often a one-off endeavor, and lacks of satisfaction of continued engagement. Besides, maybe the money won't be spent effectively, anyway. Finally, if the netroots are just taking orders from large Democratic institutions, then we really just don't seem like a very interesting movement to me. Whatever happened to taking on the system and changing it with people power?
Taking the solid advice of Open Left commenter Will, rather than just complaining about this state of affairs, I decided to start running my own ads. Instead of feeling disempowered by narratives I can't do much to change and messaging that doesn't speak for me, now I have my own anti-McCain ads. The two ads will appear across the entire state of Pennsylvania, on about three-dozen different Google keyword searches for John McCain and Sarah Palin. It feels really good, too. Here are the ads:
It is my money, my message, my targeting. Based on the keywords and cost-per-click rate that I chose, Google estimated that my ads will result in 25 click-thrus a day, costing me a little under $10 a day. However, the ads will be viewed by exponentially more people and, because of the keywords I chose, only by people looking for information on the campaign. Further, as I learn what messages work and which ones don't, if I want to fit daily talking points or the latest scandal, I can easily change the ad. Also, I can change the locations where I am targeting on a moment's notice.
You can do this too. In fact, you should do this too. In the extended entry, I explain why and how.
|As part of the 2006 Googlebomb campaign, I did exactly this with BlogPac. For $475, using Google Ads like the one above ("George Allen Beat Me Up" was our favorite, and most successful ad), we had 3,000 click thrus, and over 800,000 search impressions, across fifty-two key House and Senate districts in the final two weeks of the election. Shockingly, for less than $500, we managed to have about 6% of the electorate in those fifty-two districts view our Google ads. Originally, I only ran the ads to monitor how many people would see our "Googlebombs" (it was actually an SEO campaign, not a Googlebomb) in those districts, but it quickly became obvious that the ads were themselves useful--not to mention cheap and easy!
For the amount of time it takes to write a diary about what sort of messaging Obama should be using, you can create you own advertisement. You don't even have to target the Presidential campaign: pick a favorite House candidate if it suits you more. You can spend whatever you want, with whatever message you want, and run the ads wherever you want. You don't need anyone's approval (except Google's), and you will only reach people who are looking for information on the campaign you decide to target.
As I outlined above, people will see your ad. Further, beyond the people who will see your ad, imagine if 500, 1,000, or even 10,000 people take this action. Then, your 25 direct voter contacts, and hundred of indirect daily voter contacts, will turn into hundreds of thousands of customized swing state voter contacts every day. If it grows large enough, we can create a vast, effective, decentralized, essentially unstoppable advertising campaign using this method. It would be the equivalent of an online, grassroots 527.
This is the sort of decentralized, people-powered and people-empowering action that the netroots should be taking en masse. If you want to help win this very important election, you don't have to just take orders from Obama staffers. You don't just have to hand your money over. You don't just have to do volunteer field work. You don't just have to repeat campaign talking points. You can run your own ads with your own message--and you can reach voters in so doing.
To get started, just go to http://www.google.com, and log into Google. Then, click Advertising programs, which is clearly visible on Google's homepage. From that point, click "sign up now" for Google Adwords on the bottom left of the screen. From that point, Google has an easy-to-use, step-by-step guide that will take you through the rest of the process. If you can figure out how to post on blogs, you can figure out how to run a Google ad.
As for message, that is entirely up to you. However, it will impact which keywords you should use. Here are the keywords I chose to target for my ads:
alaska governor palin
governor palin mccain
sarah palin bio
sara palin bio
vice president palin
arizona senator john mccain
conservative john mccain voting record
john mccain facts
john mccain information
john mccain issues
john mccain policy
john mccain political view
john mccain political views
john mccain profile
john mccain views
john mccain voting record
mccain voting record
senator john mccain
senator john mccain facts
sen john mccain
My Palin ad is about her character, so I focused on her bio. My McCain ad is about his policies, so I focused on that. Google even provided me with assistance on which keywords to target, based on the content of my ad. Having done this before, I would recommend always using at least two keywords: the full name, and the last name, of the person you are targeting. For example, "McCain" and "John McCain." That is a minimum.
I choose a maximum click-per-cost of $1, and a maximum daily expenditure of $10. I figure it is best to shoot high on the click per cost, in order to be seen. It won't actually cost a $1 per click, more like $0.40. That is still a good price for a swing voter looking for info on McCain to end up looking at the website you want him or her to see.
As for where to target your ads, I chose my home state of Pennsylvania. I want to see if my ads work with my neighbors before trying them out in other markets. When you decide where to target, you might want to take a look at Pollster.com, fivethirtyeight.com, or my Presidential, Senate, and House forecasts before deciding. A little help with your targeting never hurts.
I will post an update on my Google ads every day from now to the election. I'll let you know how much it cost me, how many people viewed the ad, and how many click thru's I received. If I change the message in the ads, I will let you know. Also, I might run ads for Sam Bennett in PA-15, and Alan Grayson in FL-08, because those are great House campaigns that I want to support (Darcy, too, of course, but I bet she has this covered). Hopefully, some of you will join in the fun, and every day we can compare notes in the comments.
Happy ad making! Let's start taking charge of messaging and paid media where we can.
P.S. Don't expect your ad or ads to start working right away. I set mine up about three hours ago, and they haven't started running yet. But they do start running. Trust me, I've done this before.
P.P.S. you don't have to spend $10 per day. You can spend $1 if you like. You cna spend $50 if you are rich. You can start, pause, restart, and end the campaigns whenever you like.