TOPICS > Politics

Campaigns Use Non-Traditional Advertising to Target Specific Communities

September 27, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
The Obama campaign has bought ad time during video games, while Mitt Romney has been using social media to target specific voters to encourage early voting. Lauren Ashburn and Howard Kurtz of the Daily Download talk to Judy Woodruff about new advertising outlets and a plethora of polls showing President Obama in the lead.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the presidential contest.

We continue our regular look at the campaign as it plays out in social media and on the Web.

And for that, we’re joined again by two journalists from the Web site Daily Download. Lauren Ashburn is the site’s editor in chief. Howard Kurtz is Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief and host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

Welcome again to you both.


HOWARD KURTZ, “Newsweek”/CNN: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, let’s talk about early voting. It’s starting this week across the country. We’re told more states than ever are going to be participating, Howard, more voters. How is that — how are we seeing that in the social media?

HOWARD KURTZ: The numbers are so striking, Judy, with estimates that as many as 40 percent of people may vote before Election Day, even up to 70 percent in some swing states like Florida, North Carolina, Colorado.

These are projections, of course. But with so many people either writing in or doing absentee ballots, the presidential campaigns have a real opportunity here, but also a real challenge. how do you reach these people?

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, so, Lauren, what are the campaigns doing? What are you seeing?

LAUREN ASHBURN: The Obama campaign is doing something we haven’t seen, very unique. They are advertising in video games.

One of the most popular video games to come out in the last year is Madden’s NFL online game, where you can play football against each other. And here you can see the ad vote encouraging people to register to vote. And there are others encouraging people to vote early and to vote absentee.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So it — but it not all sports, right?

LAUREN ASHBURN: No. We have Scrabble, Tetris, Battleship and probably 15 others all within the Electronic Arts family.

So it was an ad buy with Electronic Arts.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Geared to young voters, Howard, or…

HOWARD KURTZ: In many cases. People who would play the football game or Battleship are probably a little younger than those maybe who watch traditional news programs on television.

And what’s striking here is that the Obama campaign in this instance is going out and trying to meet people where they live, or play, rather than relying, say, on traditional television ads.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Well, it’s not quite young — all young, because President Obama loves to play Scrabble. So, we know that.


HOWARD KURTZ: That skews a little older.

LAUREN ASHBURN: That’s right. Maybe it skews older.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, what about the Romney camp? What are they doing?

LAUREN ASHBURN: The Romney camp is doing a little bit more traditional, what you would expect.

They’re reaching out on Facebook and on Twitter. And on their mobile app, they’re geo-targeting people, meaning when you say you live in the District of Columbia or you live in Florida, then they are able to target the early voting to your city.

HOWARD KURTZ: The Romney campaign also working with Google. What they do, like all campaigns, you buy up search terms, popular search terms, so that you have a way of serving up your ads to people who might be interested in politics and in this case trying to find those early voters once again.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And so there’s a way for all kinds of voters to interact with that if you live in a state where there’s early voting, in other words.

HOWARD KURTZ: Well, 32 states allowing in-person voting. That’s a growing chunk of the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, what about Twitter? You were both telling me there’s a Twitter presence here, too.

LAUREN ASHBURN: There is a Twitter presence. And what we’re finding is that people on Twitter — and I think we might have said this before at some point — they are very emotionally — can get very emotionally involved and emotionally attached to the people that they’re communicating with on Twitter.

So if there’s something that says get out and vote, go vote early, and that’s shared among their friends, they’re much more likely to do it.

HOWARD KURTZ: There’s a lot of partisanship on Twitter, Judy.

But, at the same time, I’m seeing a lot of tweets that are just basically informational: Here’s how to vote early if you live in Texas, if you live in such and such a county, people sharing with their friends and followers the simple mechanics of how to vote early.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So ordinary folks are tweeting about this?

HOWARD KURTZ: Yes. It’s kind of a public service, I think, a little bit removed from the ordinary snark that we often associate with Web sites like Twitter.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, the other thing I want to ask you about is we’re starting to see more polls in the last week or two showing the president has a lead nationally a little bit, but I think more significantly in these swing states, which both of the candidates need if they’re going to win.

There’s discussion, apparently growing discussion about this in the social media. What are you seeing with regard to that?

LAUREN ASHBURN: Well, the bias originally started with FOX News and the Romney campaign.

HOWARD KURTZ: The charges of bias.

LAUREN ASHBURN: The charges of bias, correct. But they are pushing this out and saying, these polls aren’t right.

A conservative site called American Thinker tweeted, “Skewed polls indicate Obama is in trouble, not Romney.” And most of the tweets that we’re finding are from conservative groups.

HOWARD KURTZ: And some liberals are mocking this, saying your guy is behind and you’re trying to blame the polls, and in one case saying, hah, hah, hah, what are you smoking, dude?

LAUREN ASHBURN: Hah, hah, hah, what are you smoking, dude?

HOWARD KURTZ: But there’s also a Web site on the right side of the political spectrum called UnSkewed Polls which makes the argument that, if you adjust for sampling — and there’s always arguments about this in polling, and some of this gets down in the weeds — that Romney is actually ahead.

I would just say that some of these polls may indeed be off, but there’s so many polls now that show the president not just with a lead nationally, but as much as a nine- or 10-point lead in some of these swing states. They’d all have to be off by a lot for that to be a significant factor.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s just a way to — it’s another whole conversation going on there about the polls. Normally, people feel pretty helpless. They feel like they don’t who has been polled. And so this is a way to talk about it.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Right, and a way to get that message forward, because I think that what happens in presidential campaigns is that, when the polls are down, people are less likely to come and vote for that candidate.

HOWARD KURTZ: Conservatives online are worried about dampening enthusiasm for their side if it appears — and, look, it’s still early and these polls are hardly definitive — if it appears that Mitt Romney is falling behind in this race.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Lauren Ashburn, Howard Kurtz, thank you both very much.


JUDY WOODRUFF: And Howard and Lauren will be back next week the day after the first presidential debate to discuss how it played out in social media.