Lessons from Virginia and the Google Blast

06/15/2009 09:52 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

My column for this week looks at lessons learned from last week's Democratic gubernatorial primary in Virginia.

Unfortunately, I had only three short paragraphs to devote to the "Google blast" purchased by the Deeds campaign. For more detail, I recommend the article I linked to by Nancy Scola of the Personal Democracy Forum. as well as this more in-depth account by ClickZ's Kate Kay that I found after filing the column. Kay interviewed Kyle Osterhout, partner at Media Strategies, the time buying agency that purchased television, radio and online advertising for the Deeds campaign and reported these details:

Deeds ran display and search ads targeted to people throughout Virginia for two months leading up to yesterday's primary. However, the last-minute Google ads were intended for Northern Virginian eyes only. Deeds was endorsed by The Washington Post, and the campaign believed that endorsement would carry more weight with Northerners, said Osterhout.

During the 28-hour Google blast, about 8.8 million ad impressions ran, and were clicked around 3,000 times. Like many display ad efforts, the click-through rate was tiny. But Get-Out-the-Vote campaigns like this one are not necessarily driven by online action: they're meant to get people to go out and vote.

In addition, they're often aimed at persuasion. "The goal was to push to primary voters that Deeds was the candidate that was endorsed The Washington Post," Osterhout told ClickZ News. Television ads mirrored that message. According to Osterhout, the campaign team plans to analyze ad performance according to Web site, ad size, and placement "to try to pinpoint what exactly worked the best."

The "Google Blast" advertising used by the Deeds campaign, as well as by Scott Murphy's campaign earlier this year in New York's 20th Congressional District, represent something of a threshold. Campaigns area starting to use Internet advertising as a means of persuading uncertain voters rather than as a prospecting tool to reach new donors or volunteers.

As the same time, Osterhout's comments and the click-through rates he provides tell us that the Deeds internet ads functioned as online yard signs. They were effective at communicating a message that could be boiled down to a single sentence. "The Washington Post endorsed only one Democrat: Creigh Deeds."


The estimate I cited for the reach of the Google ad network -- more than 80% -- comes from an analysis of ComScore data by Eric Frenchman, an online marketing and advertising consultant who worked on the McCain-Palin campaign and claims to have coined the term "Google Blast." A Google spokesperson told me that Google does not release official numbers on their network's reach, but she did point me to the most recent ComScore numbers like those that Frenchman used for his estimates.