I ran into someone I haven't seen in a long time at the IPDI conference - Scott Heiferman, CEO of Meetup. I was doing the schmooze thing when Scott walked by and said hello. While we were getting caught up, he mentioned that he started up "a little trouble" in one of the morning panels. I missed the opening panel he was referring to because I was getting set up at our booth. When I asked Scott what happened, he kind of blew off the query, but I was curious, so I asked some of the other conference attendees what transpired.
Evidently, Scott made some anti-online advertising comments in the opening plenary panel. According to someone who was there, Scott picked up a sponsor's sign and said "This is not what it's about." The sponsor happened to be a company that was selling online commercials. This caused something of a stir.
I heard mixed comments about Scott's actions at that panel. Quite a few people praised him, saying that the grassroots approach - blogs, Meetup and other non-commercial messaging and discourse - represents the killer app for online political marketing. Others condemned Scott as a hypocrite, saying that the guy who made his living in the online agency business (i-traffic) shouldn't be condemning online advertising.
Lemme say this...Scott is a somewhat unorthodox guy, but he gets it. The guy is bringing a terrific application to the political marketing space. It's things like Meetup that give me hope for the future of democracy. (And no, I'm not being overly dramatic here. I'm serious.) Although I'm an online advertising guy, I do agree with Scott to some extent.
Shoveling TV commercials online is an overly simplistic approach and it doesn't leverage the most compelling capabilities of the medium. I would advise clients against this approach in most cases. Some make the argument that political advertisers need to base their understanding of the medium on something they already understand - like TV. Personally, I think this argument is somewhat of a cop-out.
But this isn't to say that online advertising isn't an important component of an online political marketing campaign. There's a lot more that can be done that doesn't involve shoehorning TV commercials into interactive :30 spots. I think that online advertising is a terrific way to deliver a focused message to the appropriate constituencies. Indeed, the panel I spoke on focused on how to get the right message to the right people.
At the panels I attended, there was tremendous focus on blogs and how to navigate the blogosphere such that political marketers can leverage that channel to get their message out. But one of the unanswered questions was, "How do we get the message out there in the first place?" I suggested that something like Google AdSense, which many bloggers incorporate into their sites to earn ad revenue, could help kill two birds with one stone. Not only can it help disseminate a message, but it can also support bloggers by giving them ad revenue in exchange for driving interested parties to campaigns and causes with a targeted message.
At our panel, we talked about quite a few other online advertising opportunities within the political space, including behavioral and contextual targeting plays, sites that can target geographically, paid search and others. These represent a terrific way for candidates and causes to disseminate a message in a targeted fashion.
So I disagree with Scott with regard to his notion of the usefulness (or lack thereof) of online advertising. But I do agree with him that cutting and pasting TV commercials into the online medium is not what it's all about. It's about an integrated, multi-channel approach in which each component supports the effort to the best abilities of the media utilized.