The presidential campaigns (candidates, parties, and advocacy groups attempting to influence the presidential election) have virtually ignored the Internet as an advertising medium, according to the first-ever systematic study of online political ads. The campaigns have spent more than $100 on television ads for every dollar they have spent on web ads: $330 million to $2.66 million between January and August, 2004. The Kerry campaign has outspent the Bush campaign by a 3:1 margin: $1.3 million to $419,000. The RNC has spent $487,000; the DNC $257,000. Advocacy groups have spent almost nothing: $184,000, with $104,000 by the MoveOn.org Voter Fund and nothing by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
The few ads that ran online between January and August 2004 mainly sought $25 and $50 campaign contributions. Although parts of the online world are a public “Wild West” where few standards of taste, civility, and accuracy prevail, political advertising on the internet has adhered to mass media standards of political discourse: a few remarks taken out of context, but no obscenity, graphic violence, or manifest smears and lies.
In sum, while presidential campaigns have stepped up their online fund-raising, voter-profiling, and insider communicating this year, they have not ventured aggressively into online advertising. This is somewhat surprising because online ads can reach new, undecided, and wavering voters in the demographic and geographic niches where they are thought to reside. Online ads would seem to provide a missing link between the campaigns' existing internet efforts and tens of millions of Americans.