Outside of Virginia, there was little reason to notice that Creigh Deeds won the state's Democratic primary for governor. But here's something that political campaigns and marketers across the country should pay attention to: He did it partly with a technology called Google Blasting, an eleventh-hour strategy to blanket Google-affiliated webpages in an area with a single ad campaign to impact voters' final decision. This is now the second time in three months that a Democratic underdog has used Google blasts to seal a surprising victory. Goodbye robocalls, hello Google surges?
First, let's understand what happened with Creigh Deeds, who just a month ago was running a distant third in the VA primary. First the Washington Post endorsed him, creating a huge boost in northern Virginian support. But with most polls predicting a neck-in-neck race, even the outliers had Deeds in the low 40s. He ended up trouncing Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran by more than 20 points, capturing 50% of the vote. How can we explain the incredible surge? Was it Google? The Washington Post lays out the argument:
Starting at 3 p.m EST Monday, hours before polls opened across Virginia, Deeds's campaign bought what's called a 'Google blast.' Or, more appropriately, a Google attack. If you live in Northern Virginia (or, like many voters, work in D.C. but live in NoVa), Deeds has been almost inescapable on highly-trafficked sites such as washingtonpost.com, the blog Talking Points Memo and Oxygen.com, which is popular among women. Capitalizing on his Post endorsement, he peppered those sites with banner ads reading 'The Washington Post endorsed one Democrat -- Creigh Deeds' until polls closed.
As Taegan Goddard's Political Wire points out, the same strategy was used by Democrat Scott Murphy in his upset victory in the New York Congressional seat vacated by Hillary Clinton's replacement, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. In that election surprise, Murphy covered Google content network pages in the New York's 20th district with promotions, something operatives called a "Google Network Blast" or "Google Surge." Although most polls in the month leading up to his win had him behind, Murphy won the election by less than 1000 votes.
So how can this change elections going forward? I would wager that Google blasting works best in elections precisely
like Virginia's Democratic primary for governor, when most potential
voters had low barriers-to-persuasion and some might not even be aware of the significant differences between
the candidates until a few days before the election. But maybe I'm
overestimating the ability of voters to make up their minds early for
major elections, too. I was consistently surprised to hear about the
supposed legions of undecided voters in 2008 and anybody who has worked on a campaign knows operatives never underestimate the power of last-minute pushes in toss-up areas, like North Carolina and Missouri in 2008. An effective Google surge would like dispatching thousands of volunteers to paper entire districts with fliers, minus the eye-sore and littering. It's just one more reason to either fear Google or learn to appreciate its awesome power.