Crowdsourcing the Obama message

This week, Chris Bowers at OpenLeft has been encouraging readers to run their own media campaign. The idea is very simple: at a fairly low budget, anyone can set up a simple Google ad campaign, targeted geographically and by keyword. Bowers has been running two ads - one against McCain, the other against Palin - in his native Pennsylvania, and thinks he can reach a lot of voters on a fairly low budget.

The commenters at OpenLeft have been ecstatic about the idea, and I think it is exceptionally clever. In addition to the first order effects - exposing anti-McCain messages to a lot of voters in swing states - the campaign could also have an indirect sway over the campaign's own messaging strategy, by demonstrating in a quantifiable way the messages that work (and receive a lot of click-throughs) and those that don't. I suppose that's a long shot with this campaign, but it's nevertheless a possibility.

In any case, I'd be interested to see if someone could take this idea to the next level, and make the decentralized media campaign idea a bit more social.  For example, would it be possible to set up a website which allows people to set up all of the parameters for a Google Ad campaign - the keywords, the geographic target, and the message/link which appears - and then to aggregate all of those campaigns on the website in some interesting way?  There are a lot of different ways to do this - e.g. breaking down ad campaigns by state, tag-clouding the chosen keywords, and showing aggregate click-through and impression statistics.  This kind of aggregation could be augmented with comments (suggesting refinments and tweaks to existing campaigns) as well as team fundraising pages, allowing site visitors to support one campaign or another monetarily.  It's also possible to maximize and quantify the impact of a campaign like this by targeting all of these ads at an action-oriented microsite, which takes a user through the steps of signing up for Obama's email list, giving a small donation to the campaign, signing up for My.BarackObama.com, and so on.

This sounds, to me, like a good example of a simple business idea that could be modestly profitable, since after all the main point of this project is to sell Google ads.  Technologically, this should be a relatively simple mashup of a community platform like Drupal with the Google Adwords software development toolkit.  With relatively low costs, it should be possible to set the transaction costs - on top of the raw costs for the campaign itself - at a sufficient level to generate relatively decent profit margins.  Besides the constant problem facing any social web platform - will anyone show up? - the only difficulty, as many OpenLeft commenters have already alluded to, is whether such an endeavor would run afoul of campaign finance rules, and whether or not Google Ad purchases would be considered campaign contributions.  My guess is that this kind of project would have to be organized as a 527, or under the auspices of one.

If something like this doesn't take shape between now and Election Day, it's probably a worthwhile organization to develop, even so.  Beyond the immediate need to go on the offense against McCain, as Chris points out, it's important to help develop and test messaging for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot, in an environment that's not controlld by the campaigns themselves.  More than that, with Google beginning to sell offline media ads in newspapers, radio and television, there's no reason to restrict an ad campaign to Google Adwords (although it's much more gratifying, as real-time metrics are available.)  Any takers?

Disclosure: My company worked on a small technical/design project for Open Left last year.

Tags: Google Ads, liberal entrepreneurship, messaging (all tags)

Comments

15 Comments

Re: Crowdsourcing the Obama message

Disclosure. Open Left is pretty cool, and we all miss Chris Bowers alot here at myDD.

:-)

by Trey Rentz 2008-09-12 10:32AM | 0 recs
Great Idea!

How about all of the big blogs work together to raise dunds to do this?

Jerome? Jonathan?  Hello Markos!? Goldy? (HorsesAss.org) Bowers?

How about it?

by kevin22262 2008-09-12 10:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Crowdsourcing the Obama message

It's a great idea.

The Obama campaign will hate it. And it's hard to blame them given the counterproductive messaging that has come out of left blogistan this campaign.

by souvarine 2008-09-12 11:06AM | 0 recs
Thanks for

being supportive.

hm.

by kevin22262 2008-09-12 11:43AM | 0 recs
Re: Thanks for

 I think I'll just keep giving my money to the campaign, but these ideas have possibilities for educating the people long term - since the normal pathways have been corporatized.

by QTG 2008-09-12 02:29PM | 0 recs
Re: Crowdsourcing the Obama message

I'm not sure you could even say that any "messaging" - in the sense of a coherent, well-defined and repeatedly articulated message - has come out of the blogosphere at all.  After all, the blogosphere was all over the map in terms of candidate support during the primaries.  But this is a decentralized, hetrogenous institution, so it'd be silly to expect it to have a "message" along those lines.

by Shai Sachs 2008-09-12 01:11PM | 0 recs
Re: Crowdsourcing the Obama message

This is too Priceless!

McCain: Mayors & Governors Do Not Have National Security Experience! Then why did he give us Sarah Paliin?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzhFDQIgG Sg

by bacalove 2008-09-12 11:14AM | 0 recs
There's also SaysMe.tv

That lets you buy television advertising independent of the Obama campaign.

www.saysme.tv

by msrpotus 2008-09-12 11:18AM | 0 recs
Re: There's also SaysMe.tv

I think SaysMe is doing great things.  But Google Adwords are a little easier, since they don't require you to create a video ad.  Still, definitely a worthwhile thing to explore.

by Shai Sachs 2008-09-12 01:12PM | 0 recs
brilliant idea. n/t

by chiefscribe 2008-09-12 11:18AM | 0 recs
What about campaign finance or election laws?

Bowers has a great idea. But in order to do paid media advocacy for or against a candidate, isn't there disclosure requirements and FEC filings, etc?

And if the contribution exceeded a certain amount, could it be regarded as an in-kind copntribution?

If its just issue advocacy, do you have to register as a 527?

Posting blog entries and comments is one thing. But when you styart paying for ads, you are now in a heavily regul;ated area of lection law.

So, I suggest Chris Bowers be careful that this is vetted through an election lawyer first.

by Hesiod Theogeny 2008-09-12 11:38AM | 0 recs
Re: What about campaign finance or election laws?

Yeah, I worry about some of those things too.  I think if you're just screwing around with a $10 expenditure, no one's going to raise any hackles.  (You could easily spend that much on lunch while canvassing for the campaign, but I don't know anyone who reports stuff like that.)  But you're certainly right that scaling it up like this would start to get on someone's radar screen.  That's why I think this kind of project would need to be run by a 527 or something like that.

Unless there's a 527 out there willing to take this on as a project, I think it could be assembled relatively quickly.  Otherwise, sadly, it's an idea that might need to wait a cycle or so to come to full fruition.

by Shai Sachs 2008-09-12 01:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Crowdsourcing the Obama message

Just a thought here: put some Adsense or Yahoo Publisher Network ads around it, and it becomes a "for profit" project.

by ViaPakal 2008-09-12 11:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Crowdsourcing the Obama message

Well, there's no need to do anything like that.  Since this hypothetical website would be purchasing ads on behalf of someone anyway, it could just throw a transaction fee on top and draw revenue from that.  The question is, how high does the transaction fee have to be in order to break even?  Given that the costs for this kind of project should be pretty minimal, I imagine the transaction fee could be pretty low too.

by Shai Sachs 2008-09-12 01:32PM | 0 recs
Re: Crowdsourcing the Obama message

Isn't this exactly what Obama is expecting from his supporters?

You want change? Make it happen.

by BobzCat 2008-09-12 12:38PM | 0 recs

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