Here’s One Advertiser Who Swears Mobile Ads Work: Obama

Digital team claims medium helped overcome Romney's October surge

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President Barack Obama's reelection effort spent millions on mobile ads that targeted down to the neighborhood level in battleground states, digital operatives for the campaign told Adweek. And the victors claim targeting on-the-go voters moved the needle, underscoring a 2012 that saw the mobile marketing space seemingly toddle towards significantly impacting the larger advertising world.

In the case of mobile video ads, the Democratic operatives said they got click-through rates from 3 percent to 19.5 percent during the race's crucial stretch run when Mitt Romney appeared to surge in late October and early November. The promos criticized the GOP candidate's tax plan and praised Obama's auto industry bailout, among other examples.

"We knew we had to be in mobile," said Shannon Lee, the campaign's digital lead who previously worked at interactive shop Digitas. "The work we did there was exciting because we felt it was directly impacting the election."

The ads typically zeroed in on young, female and Hispanic voters in Ohio, Michigan, Nevada, Iowa, Florida and Colorado, appearing via mobile properties owned by major regional news outlets such as the Cincinnati Enquirer, Detroit Free Press, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Des Moines Register, Miami Herald and Denver Post. The Obama digital team also bought ads directly from CNN, The Weather Channel, Associated Press and Pandora, leveraging through those publishers' mobile apps.

Interestingly, Lee said paid mobile Web and mobile app ads were not run to increase Obama for America donations but rather to persuade viewers and get out the vote. 

"Email and text were already converting a lot of those people for donations," she said. "Our hypothesis was that taking out your credit card number would be too laborious when it came to investing in paid mobile ads."

With escalating smartphone and tablet sales, the mobile space will almost certainly be one to watch during election cycles to come. Greg Hallinan, CMO of Verve Mobile, which helped the Democratic campaign target mobile ads, proclaimed, "On the mobile front, the 2008 election was about text messages. This one was about targeted mobile advertising."

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.