Net Election

Where Are All the Online Ads?

Slate and the Industry Standard join forces to examine the effect of the Internet on Campaign 2000.

After months of dullness, the Democratic presidential primary now looks like a contest. With Donald Trump preening and Jesse Ventura backpedaling, the Reform Party is enjoying its widest media exposure since Ross Perot’s ‘92 run.

Normally, presidential candidates try to build on momentum created in the “free media” by purchasing ads. Some campaigns, notably Bill Bradley’s, have jumped into the ad game–but not on the Web. So where are the online ads?

The 2000 presidential race was supposed to be the time that political advertising splashed across the Web. One virtue of virtual ads, said political and advertising experts, is the cost relative to a typical TV spot. Also, online ads can be more compelling than print or radio spots. Moreover, because the Net is a distinct medium, candidates could experiment online with targeted ads that might not suit other media.

So far, though, that’s all theoretical: As well as can be determined, no major party candidate has yet run a Web advertisement. The Seattle-based ad-tracking firm AdRelevance (which this week was bought by Media Metrix) is trying to measure Web traffic for all presidential advertising in this race. “We’ve seen nothing to date,” says Marc Ryan, AdRelevance’s director of media research.

That’s not because the candidates have avoided advertising altogether. On Sept. 26, for example, Bill Bradley’s campaign conspicuously took out half-page print ads in the Des Moines Register and the Manchester Union Leader, major dailies in the crucial early states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Both papers also offer Web sites, but the Bradley campaign apparently saw no value in extending the ad campaign into cyberspace. Sara Howard, a Bradley press aide, said, “As far as I know, we have not purchased space on any Web sites, whether they are associated with the papers running the ads in print version, or otherwise.”

AdRelevance’s Ryan says that, at least at this stage of the presidential cycle, campaigns seem to be clinging to more traditional promotional channels. “I don’t think [the candidates] will start [Web] advertising until after the Christmas season when they start their television campaigns,” Ryan said. “There is also the likelihood that some may not advertise on the Web at all.”

One source close to Al Gore’s campaign said that the Gore organization had tentative plans to advertise online in New Hampshire as far back as July. But the plans were shelved when it became too time-consuming to coordinate the campaign’s online messages with its offline messages.

A Gore press aide said that the campaign is interested in online advertising, citing an arrangement back in June with RealNetworks for a Web ad that announced the Internet availability of the audio of Gore’s announcement speech. Any further details, he said, were “not something we’re willing to talk about at this time. We tend not to talk about our advertising strategy until we do the ads, because we don’t want our competition to know.”