Internet-based search may be upending the commercial world, but it has yet to make a big splash in the high-stakes world of political campaigns, according to a new study released in the wake of the congressional elections.
The study, conducted by Internet marketing research firm Rimm-Kaufman Group, found that relatively few political advertisers exist at the moment, with the average search results page for queries returning only 3.7 ads.
And commercial sites, including search engines, social networks, and Web merchants, are still more prone to use political advertising than political parties themselves.
Still, search giant
lead over rival
for political advertisements was striking said Alan Rimm-Kaufman, president and CTO of the Rimm-Kaufman Group, who headed up the study.
"While Google tends to come in first in the ecommerce world, Yahoo! is usually a close second," said Rimm-Kaufman. "But Google is just absolutely dominant in this space," he says. Google's commanding lead makes Rimm-Kaufman wonder whether the company specifically targeted political campaigns. Google was not immediately available for comment.
Republican candidates saw twice as many search-related ads placed compared with Democrats, and Democrat-supporting ads were three times as likely to be negative than Republican ads, the study found. Despite the proliferation of video content on the Web and the importance of film footage in high-profile races such as Senate contest in Virginia, only two ads linked to video clips. Both were to footage on YouTube, the popular video site acquired by Google in October.
The most prevalent advertisers were Accona, a search engine owned by the Chinese government, social networking site Gather.com, and online retailer CafePress, which sells items like mugs and T-shirts that can be customized, including with political content. GOPSenators.com, a Web site for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, came in fourth.
Internet search provides a huge, untapped opportunity for political campaigns as well as media sites -- and one that will be exploited much more fully in future campaigns, said Rimm-Kaufman, who headed up the study.
"Things will be very different in two years," said Rimm-Kaufman, referring to the upcoming presidential election in 2008. He points out that Web-based search is much cheaper than TV ads, and also notes that Web-based links can offer voters much more information than TV clips.
Political parties can launch much more effective online campaigns for "the amount of money they probably spend on sandwiches right now," he said. And whereas "all you can do in a 30-second TV spot is launch a quick attack, on the Web you can link to policy papers, third-party information -- or let the voter watch your opponent say something offensive."
But Web-based searches also offer potential political advertisers another benefit long-coveted by other advertisers. They have insight into the users' intent, and users searching the Web for a particular candidate or issue will be much more likely to actually turn up and vote than those blanketed with a message in between television programming. And while the most prevalent form of political advertising currently uses candidate names as queries, the potential for candidates to seek out voters by using hot button issues they have staunch positions on is enormous.
Media organizations are another group that have been slow to capitalize on political advertising, said Rimm-Kaufman. "CNN, NPR, and all the other networks should be saying, 'Come to us, we have all this content'," he said.