Candidates hop onto Net

Campaigns: Web sites, ads and e-mail increasingly target prospective voters.

January 17, 2000|By Nick Anderson | Nick Anderson,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Not long ago, a politician wanting to appear technologically savvy would create a Web site on which to post information for the browsing public. Now, those seeking to be up to date are taking the next step: advertising online.

The movement has caught the attention of presidential candidates who see in the Internet a venue for quick, inexpensive and highly targeted connections to potential voters -- in essence, cyber-handshakes.

Last week, Democrat Bill Bradley became the latest presidential candidate to launch Internet ads. His ads target users in California, Iowa and New Hampshire and Microsoft's Hotmail clients in Iowa.

One Bradley banner ad begins with a teaser, "Tired of politics as usual?" Then a picture of Bradley appears with this message: "I am. See what I'm going to do about it." This leads to a link to the former New Jersey senator's Web site.

Vice President Al Gore, the other Democratic candidate, ran online ads in June to promote a live Webcast of his campaign kickoff and plans to run more, his aides said.

On the Republican side, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain have placed flashing banner advertisements on commercial Web sites. One of the Bush ads lets computer users calculate how much they would save under his tax-cutting plan. A McCain ad helped him round up volunteers for a petition drive to put him on the Virginia primary ballot.

"We're in an age where more and more people are getting their information from the Internet, and this is just one more way to reach people," said Kristen Ludecke, a Bradley spokeswoman.

Television remains the cornerstone of national political advertising. However, while online advertising is new to presidential candidacies, it is becoming a potent communications tool in other political arenas.

Last month, Rep. Bob Riley, an Alabama Republican, became the first member of Congress to send his constituents a video e-mail through franking, the long-established custom that is essentially taxpayer-funded advertising. What's more, lobbyists are using increasingly sophisticated Internet ads and e-mail solicitations to drum up grass-roots support on issues before Congress and the administration.

The emergence of e-politics was inevitable as the online population proliferates. Last month, the Harris Poll reported that 56 percent of all U.S. adults go online at home, work or elsewhere.

"If you ignore the Internet, you really do so at your peril and the peril of your issues in the Digital Age," said Pam Fielding, principal of a new online business, e-advocates, which helps interest groups spread their message. "I would never suggest we should all throw away our direct-mail lists, get rid of our phones and stop having face-to-face meetings with members of Congress. But this has to be part of the strategy."

For campaigns, Internet ads are economically and tactically appealing.

McCain's campaign was able to send an ad to registered voters in Virginia from Dec. 9 to Dec. 16 for $1,500. That bought McCain about 10,000 "impressions" of five banner ads appearing on dozens of Web sites, said Max Fose, McCain's Web site coordinator.

An impression, the basic unit of online advertising, is defined as one instance of an ad appearing on a screen for a computer user to see. The ad garnered 198 "click-throughs" -- a 2 percent response rate that pleased McCain aides -- leading 97 activists to help McCain get on the state ballot.

McCain's campaign is working with Aristotle Publishing Inc. The company has developed a technology that integrates nationwide voter lists with demographic information that computer users have voluntarily supplied to Internet companies. That enables pinpoint targeting of the sort that is all but impossible to obtain with a TV ad.

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