Obama Dominating Web Down the Stretch | Adweek Obama Dominating Web Down the Stretch | Adweek
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Obama Dominating Web Down the Stretch

Both candidates learning about the perils of audience-based buying

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As the presidential campaign trudges into its waning hours, the embattled Mitt Romney and Barack Obama election teams are ramping up their on-the-ground efforts while still flooding local and national TV with a barrage of last ditch ads. Both campaigns are also turning to the Web with 11th-hour ads, and President Obama is by far the digital aggressor.

As documented by FEC reports, the Obama campaign has outspent Romney's outfit on digital advertising by a hearty 10-1 ratio (47 million to 4.7 million). Yet, those FEC numbers often lack specificity. To remedy that, the ad search engine and analytics company Moat has provided Adweek with a custom report shedding some light on both campaigns' display strategies.

According to Moat, the Obama campaign has maintained a 90 percent share of voice across all indexed domains over the past two months. And while both campaigns appear to be experimenting with various tactics, the Obama effort resembles some of the more sophisticated online marketing operations, employing a complex configuration of ad servers, exchanges and data targeting platforms.

Moat's search index data, which compares digital display impressions across tens of thousands of websites throughout September and October, suggests that while the Romney campaign has worked to increase its share of voice in October—the campaign nearly doubled its share of voice across all domains last month—the Obama team ran display ads across 2,765 publishers to Romney's 627.

From September to October the Obama campaign increased the number of sites in its portfolio by 33 percent, taking full advantage of the long tail. Indeed, while Obama has advertised heavily on big sites like The New York Times, AOL, MSN and Yahoo, the campaign also appears to have embraced audience-based buying, sprinkling its message on all sorts of small niche sites.

On the flip side, the Romney campaign actually decreased the number of sites on its digital media plan by 27 percent from September to October although Moat's data identified a 400 percent surge in impressions, which suggests that Romney's display strategy may be growing more efficient and concentrated. Or, that decrease in diversity could be a sign that Republicans are moving away from digital display during the home stretch toward digital video, TV or perhaps even to help on the ground efforts.

Romney display ads have been popping up frequently conservative news outlets like the Drudge Report, Red State and Breitbart—all in the Top 5 in terms of indexed impressions. But Romney has also leveraged Google Adsense as a means to target smaller domains.

Among Top 100 Web domains tracked by Moat, Obama has a commanding 95 percent share of voice over Romney.

It's worth noting that as both candidates utilize exchanges and ad networks, like many a digital advertiser, those tactics can result in some peculiar outcomes. For one, the targeting can be decidedly imprecise. For example, Obama ads have run on sites like TeenIdols4You, clearly not the voting demographic the president is looking to reach.

There's bad targeting, and then there are content adjacenies that are downright unpresidential. For example, in October Obama display ads have ended up on sites like DailyMotion, which hosts some NSFW content as well as sites like prankdial.com and 1-800-my-kidney.com. Romney ads have appeared on the sometimes NSFW urban culture blog MediaTakeOut as well as gossip blogs like WWTD.com—which has a dedicated area for celebrity bikini pictures—and bradpittworkout.com. Moat's CEO, Jonah Goodhart, however, told Adweek that it's worth noting that, as a result of the exchanges, "the campaigns may or may not be aware of where their ads are showing up on the longtail of sites."