The Dazzling Presidential Election Display Advertising Duel


With Election Day upon us, both sides spent more money on advertising in the final push towards swaying voters. Party fundraising has been a hot topic this year, but what we’re most interested in is looking at how Obama and Romney’s presidential campaigns are spending their dollars online.

As anyone who’s looked up the definition of a word on, or read an article on or can attest, President Obama’s display ads have been blanketing the internet for months.  We’ve been asked to donate, wish him a Happy Birthday or Anniversary and to sign up for the chance to join him at a fancy fundraiser.  It’s no surprise that Obama for America has a smooth online operation; his 2008 campaign was heralded for its groundbreaking use of the internet in reaching voters.  Are they at it again? How does Obama for America stack up against Romney for President, Inc.?  Did Romney’s shrewd business abilities lead him to hire an internet guru consultant?

With the help of YieldMetrics, we’ve been tracking their display ads for the past five months leading up to the election including monitoring the number of sites per day, total number of impressions, and the types and quantities of the creatives.

Number of Sites per Day

In June, Obama was showing display ads, on average, on 130 Web sites per day compared to Romney’s paltry 6. As Romney secured the Republican nomination and the race grew more heated, Romney narrowed the gap in August to 62 sites versus Obama’s 103.  Romney’s coverage seemed to peak around the time of the Republican National Convention, and similarly, Obama maintained a strong online presence through the Democratic National Convention before tapering for the month of September.  Both campaigns ramped up once more in October for one last kick before the election.

Impression Share

The display ad race doesn’t seem so uneven when looking at the sites per day data.  However, once the impression share is added into the mix, it’s made even more obvious that display ads are a large part of the Obama Campaign’s strategy.  YieldMetrics defines Impression Share as how many impressions a single advertiser bought versus all available impressions.  Both campaigns have been steadily increasing their number of impressions since June with Obama’s impression share peaking in October with 1.03% of all display ads online.  As a reference, AT&T’s share for the same time period is 1.02%.  Comparatively, Romney’s campaign is hardly on the graph.  So while both campaigns may have a similar number of sites they’re appearing on, Obama’s are being seen 20 times as often.

Creatives and Messaging

Comparing the actual creatives divulges more information about the two campaigns.  Over the past three months, the Obama campaign has published 530 unique creatives to Romney’s 81.  Additionally, the Obama campaign heavily relies on using Flash for their attention-grabbing messages while Romney’s remain static.  Romney’s messages include words like, “business”, “recovery”, “comeback team”, “clear choice” and “Obamacare”.  The call-to-action buttons ask you to “donate” or “contribute”.  Obama’s messages include words like, “register to vote”, “women’s right to choose”, “47% “,  “ vote early”, “join Michelle” or “Nevada votes early”.  A sampling of the call-to-action buttons ask you to “sign the card”, “confirm where you vote”, “donate now”, “¡empieza!”, and “are you in?”.  Romney’s ads are developed from a set of colors that revolves around a stately slate blue, while Obama’s ads are accented with various shades of blue from electric, to robin’s egg or turquoise blue. The Obama campaign seems to leave no inch of the internet uncovered in its precise targeting of swing states like Nevada and its use of Spanish.

Who’s the Running Mate?

It won’t come as a surprise that for all intents and purposes, Michelle Obama is Barack’s running mate online. She appears in 28% of images used in his ads in the month of October while non-existent Joe appears in 1% of the images used.

Interestingly, Romney’s campaign does not capitalize on the Congressman Ryan’s youthful looks and rock hard P-90X bod.  Mitt stands alone 87% of the time with Paul Ryan figuring into 7% of the display ads in the month of October.  Neither do the ads feature former First Lady of Massachusetts and grandmother of 18, Ann Romney.  She appears in only 2% of all images displayed starkly contrasting with First Lady Michelle’s 28%.  Obama for America is on the attack 15% of the time with ads showing Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s pictures negatively, while Romney for President shows Obama in 4% of its images.

Overall, based on the low Impression Share and lack of technical skill in developing the creatives it’s fairly obvious that the Romney campaign isn’t making display advertising a large part of their overall strategy.  They do appear to be targeting their audience well by appearing on sites like,, and  What remains unclear is their strategy in reaching voters in swing states.  Conversely, display advertising figures heavily in the Obama campaign.  The number of creatives combined with their topical messages and flash animation show a lot of time and attention is being put into developing them.  The Impression Share shows the substantial budget that the campaign is using and the various different sites from to to shows that they are trying to reach as many online viewers regardless of their political leaning.

Now that you’re informed of where and how the candidates’ money is being spent online, make sure you get out there and VOTE!



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