Presidential candidates are using Google, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other digital strategies to reach out to voters, even when those voters aren't necessarily trying to find them.
In some cases, candidates are using online tools to poach support from their rivals or for spin control.
For example, someone looking for information about Rick Perry might end up at a website supporting Ron Paul. A user trying to get the latest news about the Herman Cain sexual harassment scandal would be led to the Cain Truth website, where the campaign countered allegations against him.
Rick Perry and Mitt Romney are among the candidates who have bought sponsored tweets on Twitter or Facebook ads to try and garner online support.
Here's a look at some of the strategies being used:
Co-opting A Candidate's Name
Talk about bait and switch. Recently, when users typed rickperry.com into their address bars, they were taken to a website promoting Ron Paul.
Policymic.org reported Rick Perry's website is actually rickperry.org (not .com). The fake Rick Perry website has now been taken down, but you can still check it out by doing a Google search for rickperry.com and clicking on the web cache. Ron Paul's campaign denied any involvement in the website to the National Journal:
"The Paul campaign does not have anything to do with this and does not appreciate this sort of thing," campaign spokesman Gary Howard told National Journal. "We are working now to resolve the issue."
The website is actually registered to an Australian company that serves as a proxy for people who want to protect their identities. We were unable to reach the company due to time zone differences.
Geo-targeted Mobile Advertising
Candidates can also buy ads that pop up on your cell phone.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann ran a mobile phone ad within a two-mile radius of the Minnesota State Fair, telling fair goers that her opponent wanted to raise taxes on the food they were about to buy.
Herman Cain And Spin Control
Politico reported that when Google users in Iowa searched for "Ginger White," the woman who claimed to have a longtime affair with Herman Cain, an ad promoting Cain appeared above the results.
Cain’s campaign also took to Twitter to help rebut allegations of sexual harassment. The Friends of Herman Cain, Inc. bought a message on Twitter using one of the political advertising products made available to campaigns in September called “promoted tweets.”
As the New York Times reported:
So whenever people searched for Herman Cain on Twitter, they got a message from his campaign with a small logo and disclaimer that read: “From Team HC: Sadly, we’ve seen this movie played out before. Mr. Cain and all Americans deserve better.
Herman Cain has since put his campaign on hold, and other candidates have made a grab for his supporters online.
Newt Gingrich's Google Ad Buy Jumps the Cain Train
Newt Gingrich is running ads on web searches for news about Herman Cain in Iowa and New Hampshire with the message "Support the Candidate that can win."
Rick Perry bought Facebook ads to go after Cain supporters. His ads read: "Cain Supporters: Texas Governor Rick Perry is the only Washington outsider left in the Presidential race. Click to learn more."If you click, you're taken to a Perry web page that explains how he and Cain are both Washington outsiders.
Unwieldy Social Media Creates Mixed Messages
But sometimes candidates get get tangled up in the world wide web.
Imagine Mitt Romney's surprise when his banner ads ended up on a YouTube video from the progressive group, MoveOn.org.
A reader sent Politico a screen grab of the MoveOn ad supporting same-sex marriage where you can clearly see the banner ad: "Grab A Bite With Mitt." As Rick Perry might say, "Oops."
So how does something like that happen? It could be explained in the way that online ads track users across the Web.
Campaigns Track Users Across The Web
If someone does a Google search for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, they could see ads for those candidates on other pages. The ads have the ability to track users as they move from one website to another.
The Associated Press reports in the Wall Street Journal:
"...someone who has visited the Obama campaign website probably will start seeing his ads on a number of different Web pages. Those who use Google to search for information on the Republican candidates might notice a Romney campaign pre-roll the next time they watch a TV show online."
Digital Ads Vs. Mass Media
Digital ads are giving candidates the ability to target potential supporters in new and sometimes unexpected ways. But 2012 may be the testing ground. Advertising experts say that while corporations are currently pouring up to 28 percent of their ad dollars into digital ads, political campaigns are only at 5 percent. But if their digital messages take off, the next presidential election will likely play out more and more on the Web.
- John Carroll, Here & Now media analyst and publisher of Campaign Outsider blog
This segment aired on December 9, 2011.