Republicans Best Dems on the Web in Mass Race

The Republicans flipped the script.

After watching President Barack Obama dominate online media in 2008, Republican Scott Brown ran circles around his Democratic opponent Martha Coakley on the Web in his successful bid to become Massachusetts’ next Senator.

In what could be seen as a harbinger of things to come, the Brown campaign deftly employed online advertising, search marketing, social media and text messaging to help generate volunteers and voters during the special election held on Tuesday (Jan. 19).

Starting last Thursday (Jan. 14), Brown ran a massive “network blast” on Google’s Content Network, soliciting volunteers with 10 different localized ads targeted to 10 different regions. From Thursday until Election Day, when the campaign shifted the messaging to “get out the vote” ads, Google delivered 65,553,323 ad impressions for Brown in Massachusetts alone. “This was a groundbreaking use of the Google network,” said Galen Panger of Google’s Communications & Public Affairs team.

Plus, Browns’ campaign was aggressive in buying traditional keyword ads on Google, tied both to searches for the still-unknown Brown and his opponent Coakley (something the Coakley did not do). Overall, whether driven by strong advertising, candidate novelty or the general unrest of the electorate, Google tracked twice as many searches for Brown than for Coakley according to its internal data.

Overall, Panger said that Brown’s team pulled nearly every single lever Google had to offer, from search and network placements to InStream video ads on YouTube, to ads within Gmail. The campaign even leveraged Google Voice for its Election Day hotline—set up to aid voters at the polls.

“In a different election, we might have focused on persuasion strategy,” said Robert Willington, Brown’s online campaign strategist. “But with a special election, the mission is to turn out voters. January is an unusual time for voters to vote, so we needed as many volunteers as possible.”

The 10 different region campaigns helped that effort, as Willington was able to used data from the Google Network Blast to assess where the most volunteers were to be expected, and where the need might be. “I just had to look at 10 different spreadsheets,” he said.

And to help his volunteers knock on the right doors, Willington had his team build apps for the iPhone and Blackberry platforms, which helped users find specific homes using the devices built in GPS technology.

Google, along with the Web site for the Boston Herald were the primary places that the Brown campaign spent media dollars online. But to better sell voters on Brown, Willington also set him loose on social media, starting first with Twitter when the campaign didn’t have a lot of cash. “I didn’t want our use of Twitter to be just a short version of our press releases,” he said. “I wanted to show Scott’s personality.”

“Twitter is like marijuana,” he added. “It’s a gateway to other things.”

Those other things included YouTube and Facebook, where Willington said that Brown’s personality could shine. “We have a candidate that is very likeable when people get to hear him.”

Far more Web users seemed to like Brown than Coakley. As of Wednesday afternoon, Brown had 774,000 YouTube subscribers, 130,000 Facebook fans and over 16,000 Twitter followers. Coakley was able to claim just over 100,000 YouTube subs, 18,000-plus Facebook fans and roughly 4,000 Twitter followers.

Moving forward, Democrats and Republicans will undoubtedly take notice of Brown’s Web marketing success. What will be interesting to track is how many others are able to adopt these tactics. Willington said that during a normal election cycle, the mission becomes much more focused on persuasion.

And voter angst may not be easy to channel for some candidates. Said Panger: “There may be something about being the opposition.”