TOPICS > Politics

How Romney, Obama Camps Use Google Search Ads to Target Voters

April 19, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
As part of our ongoing series on how the presidential campaign plays out in social media and on the Web, Jeffrey Brown and journalists Lauren Ashburn and Howard Kurtz of discuss how Google searches have changed the way President Obama and Mitt Romney target different demographics.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now we continue out regular look at the campaign as it plays out in social media and on the Web.

For that, we’re joined again by two journalists from the new website Daily Download. Lauren Ashburn is the site’s editor in chief and is formerly with USA Today Live and Gannett Broadcasting. Howard Kurtz is Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief and host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

And welcome back.

HOWARD KURTZ: Thank you.


JEFFREY BROWN: Let’s start with something, an effort that kicked off this week. It’s the outreach of the campaigns to Hispanics.

We talked about it a little bit on last night’s program. We did some of the TV side. But this is also playing out, Lauren, online, right?


Latinos for Obama has relaunched its site. It began in 2007 and yesterday got a big makeover. They now have a new Twitter handle, Latinos for Obama. And on the site, they have done several things. You can text unidos, united, to your phone and you will get updates.

You can sign in with an email and you will also get updates on your email. And then there are two other interesting areas. You can find out where parties and events are in your hometown. So that would be. . .

JEFFREY BROWN: Very local and specific. Right?

LAUREN ASHBURN: Very local. And they have a lot of local chapters that are having house parties tonight launching this new initiative.

JEFFREY BROWN: Both campaigns have this, but this is an example of targeting a group.

HOWARD KURTZ: The Romney campaign hasn’t been doing as much online. A Romney campaign official told me that they have been through a series of bruising primaries and been going state by state and they’re just now trying to gear up for the general election.

So when I looked on Twitter, for example, the top search that came up was a mocking Twitter handle called “Mexican Mitt,” making fun of his Latino outreach effort.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, now speaking of searches and speaking of targeting, one thing you guys have been looking at is the way — I think campaigns are using sort of a corporate model, right, on Google ads. How will you explain this?

HOWARD KURTZ: Just like Coca-Cola or General Motors, the Obama campaign has been very aggressive here is buying up what are called Google search terms. You can do it on Yahoo! or other search engines.

What does that mean? If you’re sitting at your computer and you want to go to Obama economy, you’re looking for stories on Obama stimulus, when you get to that page with the results you will see ads created and bought by the Obama campaign for it to serve up its message or attack the other guy.

For example, immigration reform takes you to an Obama campaign ad that is titled “Mitt’s Extreme Views.” So it’s very carefully targeting people who are searching for information online.

JEFFREY BROWN: Give us an example.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Sure. Let me show you an example right here that we have.

This was the search called Buffett rule. The Buffett rule, as we know, Warren Buffett, the billionaire, this is a rule that is basically saying let’s tax people at the millionaire and billionaire. . .


LAUREN ASHBURN: Level, right.

So look at this. When you do the search, it goes to the White House blog, basically, talking about why the Buffett rule would make sure everyone plays by the same rules.

JEFFREY BROWN: So someone types in Buffett rule and up comes the search, but also comes up the ad.

HOWARD KURTZ: Exactly. And that’s exactly what the Obama campaign wants you to see.

JEFFREY BROWN: And the theory is that anyone — someone interested in the Buffett rule, the campaign thinks might also be — aha, might also be a supporter.

HOWARD KURTZ: Or is somebody was looking for — if somebody is looking for negative information about the Buffett rule, here’s a dose of positive information from the administration’s point of view to counter any negative perceptions.

JEFFREY BROWN: And the Romney campaign does this as well, of course.


Here’s another example, Jeff. Take a look at this. When you search for George Romney, Mitt Romney’s father, and you want information, you will be taken to an ad that is for his son, Mitt Romney, and it takes you to the contribution page, where you can send in a donation.

JEFFREY BROWN: How active — how often does it change? How much is it tied to events in the campaign or other news?

HOWARD KURTZ: I have a good answer. I have a good answer on that.


HOWARD KURTZ: Again, the Romney campaign, which has been going through the primaries, hasn’t bought up as many of these Google search terms, George Romney being an exception.

But at the same time, during the primaries, if you searched for information on Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, you would often get Romney ads telling you not-so-flattering things about those candidates. And here’s an example of how agile these campaigns can be.

The last couple weeks, the whole flap about Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen taking a swipe at Ann Romney, she never worked a day in her life. . .


HOWARD KURTZ: . . . if you searched during that period for Hilary Rosen, you got an ad bought by the Romney campaign on the Google search page that says, “Stand with Mitt’s better half,” and it took you to either a video of Ann Romney saying nice things about her husband, or where you could buy — you could donate and buy a bumper sticker, “Moms Drive the Economy.”

So that was very much. . .

JEFFREY BROWN: So responding right to the news cycle.

HOWARD KURTZ: Boom, boom.

JEFFREY BROWN: You also wanted to show us this larger site, right, Moat?


And here it is. essentially shows you where all of the ads are on the Internet. So if you take a look at Moat right here, here’s a President Obama ad that was just seen on Daily Kos or on

HOWARD KURTZ: You can actually look at that and find out where these ads are running and how recently.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Right. Nine minutes ago, the ad ran here. One hour ago, it ran here.

And we can take a look. This site is actually very large. You can just scroll through and see how many of the ads that the Obama campaign has launched.

HOWARD KURTZ: I called someone from Moat to ask why only a few Romney ads were showing up in the search of the site. And an official there told me that Romney is doing some online advertising, but their engines are only picking up — are picking up much more from the Obama campaign, which at this point at least much more active in the online advertising world.

JEFFREY BROWN: Targeted politics, right?


LAUREN ASHBURN: That’s right.

JEFFREY BROWN: Howard Kurtz, Lauren Ashburn of the Daily Download, thanks so much.

HOWARD KURTZ: Thank you.