Although YouTube isn't a substantial profit center for Google and probably won't be for some time, it has matured significantly under the corporate umbrella of the world's largest search engine.

The latest sign of that maturity: YouTube has become a powerful platform for political candidates to reach voters, and YouTube is hoping to cash in.

According to Borrell Associates, spending on political ads in the United States will hit $4.2bn this year, double the $2.1bn that was spent in the last major election cycle in 2008. A lot of that money will go towards ads on television, which is a favorite medium for candidates hoping to be elected (or re-elected).

But the election of Barack Obama in 2008 sent a very clear message to political candidates: the internet can be your best friend if you work it properly. Obama, of course, used social media brilliantly to build up grassroots support, but not every candidate can drum up success with earned media. So political hopefuls often turn to Google for paid media:

With 68% of U.S. voters heading online before they vote to do research on local ballot initiatives, being online is crucial to getting elected. For the last couple of election cycles, we have seen how important it is for politicians and issue advocacy groups to maintain channels on YouTube — but when it comes to advertising, most campaigns get their messages to constituents through online ads across search and the Google Display Network with tactics like Google Blasts.

This year, YouTube stands to be one of the most prominent online properties when it comes to paid media thanks to Google's concerted efforts to push In-Stream Ads:

Using In-Stream Ads, candidates and issue advocacy groups have reached millions of U.S. voters this primary season. The best part? It straddles that line between digital and TV advertising: most campaign managers and political agencies are taking their standard made-for-TV 30-second ads and simply re-purposing them to run on YouTube. Campaigns can target locations (like their state or district), as well as content categories on YouTube, allowing them to tailor their message to specific groups of constituents.

According to Google, one interest group called Defeat the Debt has not only reached more than 1m people using In-Stream ads, but has shunned television ads completely in some markets in favor of the YouTube-based ads.

Is this a sign of things to come? Perhaps. While effective political campaigning will still be about the marketing mix, it's not entirely surprising that candidates and interest groups are finding YouTube to be an ideal platform. It's the most popular video site on the internet, and as Google points out, the targeting In-Stream Ads offer compares favorably with what is offered by, for instance, cable companies. Additionally, as Google also points out, In-Stream Ads have a comfortable cousin; buying a 30-second In-Stream Ad is likely to be just as easy as buying a 30-second television ad, especially if you've already created your 30-second television ad.

But if candidates really want the internet to work for them, they'll eventually have to treat YouTube and online platforms like it as more than just a television-like medium. In other words, they'll need to move beyond the 30-second spot and study the lessons of the Obama internet campaign, which helped create excitement, engagement, and finally, the most important thing of all: action.

Photo credit: Mykl Roventine via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 24 August, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (2)


Mike McDonald

That last paragraph says it all. Anyone gaining any ground in web advertising is looking at it through a different lens than those who just aren't making it work. This is definitely not TV, and throwing TV-age solutions at the task isn't going to get you anywhere. It's about the campaign, not an individual act of promotion. 

almost 8 years ago


Sarah Taieb

This post concerns mainly teh USA where expense from political parties is so huge and targeting people is so crucial. I can't see political ads ever grow in Europe or in the middle east where voters would do any "homework" online before putting their ballot in the urn!

almost 8 years ago

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