Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech on Thursday night may be the closest thing the Republican Party has to a Super Bowl this election cycle. Nominee John McCain drew 39 million viewers for his 2008 acceptance speech, according to Nielsen data—more than President Bush did for his convention address in 2004. To maximize the fundraising power of this huge audience, Romney’s digital strategists want to intercept these viewers on the tablets, laptops, and smartphones they will use while they watch.
Advertisers call these viewers “media multitaskers” or “multiscreen viewers.” Ipsos research shows that about two-thirds of viewers use a smartphone, computer, or tablet while watching TV. Google’s own research confirms that there is a strong, real-time correlation between a national media event and Internet search activity. During the 2012 Super Bowl, for instance, the top five trending search terms were all game-related.
Political-ad consultant Peter Pasi said that there could be as much as $15 million to $20 million in campaign donations to be raised online during Romney’s acceptance speech. This dwarfs the $3.5 million the campaign reported raising online in the 24 hours after Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate.
There’s so much potential money on the table, Pasi told Convention Daily, because the prime-time speech will the first moment that many voters tune into the 2012 campaign. “Search, more than any other form of advertising, leads to conversion,” he said.
Pasi, an executive vice president at Emotive, worked on Rick Santorum’s 2012 primary campaign and had to fix the “Google problem” that arose when columnist Dan Savage orchestrated an online campaign to steer searches on the politician to sexually charged content. He says that Romney’s campaign should adopt a “war room” strategy for search, monitoring Google searches in real time and responding to trends with ads instantaneously.
Ads on Google are triggered by user searches. Advertisers buy search terms using an automated tool, and are charged when ads generate clicks. When there is competition for an ad, the top listing is awarded to the bidder who offers the most money and whose content has the strongest relationship to the search term. Google calls this a “quality score.” It’s what ensures that Romney’s campaign site typically has the top listing for searches with the candidate’s name.
There are going to be “millions of queries, millions of people who are going to be motivated to learn more about the candidate,” Pasi said. “The key is to have lots of stuff ready to go” in advance, so that search ads matching trending terms can be deployed at the touch of a button.
Romney’s digital team didn’t respond to a request for comment on its search-advertising plans for the speech. Pasi said that a well-executed plan would include copy that links themes from Romney’s speech to landing pages with instructions on how to donate.
The most obvious search terms are usually the most successful. “As a general rule, campaigns will see highest click-through rate on their own branded terms, like a candidate’s name,” said Rob Saliterman, Google’s head of Republican ad sales.
Search activities can also present opportunities for rivals. The Obama campaign is looking to intercept voters seeking more information about Paul Ryan, with a search ad that reads “Who Is Paul Ryan?” and links to the Obama campaign website. Pasi expects the Obama team to snap up ads keyed to policy issues, such as taxes and women’s health.