Local Campaigns Turning to Social, New Media Advertising

One County Council candidate advertises on Pandora, while others stick to tried and true methods


Dist. 5 County Council candidate Evan Glass uses Instagram to connect with voters. This image is a selfie featuring him and his competitors in the race.

via Evan Glass on Instagram

Local candidates facing tight primaries in Montgomery County are increasingly looking to social media and digital advertising for creative ways to excite voters and gain name recognition.

“We're finally seeing everyone at every race at every level using these tools,” said political strategist Taryn Rosenkranz. “People aren't just doing one activity anymore. You need to be on all those mediums make an impact.”

Rosenkranz started New Blue Interactive, a Democratic digital strategy firm, in 2011 to help boost small dollar fundraising. Before long, she says she was handling all-out new media blitzes, from social networks to better websites to email blasts. Now, local candidates are catching on.

Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal is locked in a tight democratic primary to retain his at-large seat of three terms. For the first time in his political career, his ad buys include television spots and 30-second clips on Pandora, the music streaming service, according to campaign coordinator Jessica Moore.

Leventhal is likely the first local council candidate to use a Pandora spot, though no one source tracks council advertising strategies.

The councilman narrates the ad, which plays in between songs. Click off the application and the ad freezes until you reopen the tab. A pop-up ad also appears in the lower right corner of the screen as Leventhal asks for your vote. The councilman, who speaks Spanish and Portuguese, even recorded a spot in Spanish if you listen to Latin music.

“It’s our county. It’s our future,” he says in the ad. “Es nuesto condado. Es nuestro futuro.”

“This is a niche that was appearing not just on the congressional level, but on every level,” Rosenkranz said about targeted digital advertising. “Now, you have affordable and accessible tools. That barrier is gone.”

That doesn’t mean, though, that traditional politicking has fallen off, says William Klein, communications director for District 1 council challenger Dutchy Trachtenberg.

“The digital universe just provides a larger platform or a larger megaphone to talk about those same issues you’re discussing one-on-one,” he said. “It’s very much in keeping with the politics is local adage.”

The Trachtenberg campaign continues to go door-to-door, Klein says, and has sent out half a dozen mailers. It’s in the midst of an aggressive email campaign, he said, and is becoming increasingly adept on Facebook and Twitter.

Trachtenberg even carried over the “Dutchy Trike” — a three-wheeler toting a 4-foot by 8-foot campaign poster — from previous election efforts. She served a single at-large term from 2006 to 2010. The only 2014 twist: The trike has its own Twitter handle (@DutchyTrike) in the hopes that voters will spot the sign and tweet its whereabouts. 

It’s the collision of old-world political gamesmanship and new era connectivity, Klein says.

“That’s the age we live in,” he said. “You have to keep up with the times, but there’s a reason that there are tried and true methods to campaigning.”

Candidates still have to balance proven strategic plays with experimentation on emerging media. Each has its own costs and benefits, campaign advisers say.

Council campaigns request data from the Board of Elections for so-called “supervoters,” people who have voted in past primary and general elections, strategists say. Those who have cast ballots frequently are often the targets of postcards or fundraising pitches.

But new media campaigns often are not as targeted. Pandora ads run in specific zip codes and boosted Facebook ads reach users who can individually tinker with their privacy settings.

“With social media you can hit a lot more people with a lot less money and you hope you're getting some voters,” Moore said. “The county is 500 square-miles and you have to be so much more targeted and smart on where you spend your resources.”

Harnessing the power of social networks has become even more critical as Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram can help candidates reach voters.

Evan Glass, a District 5 council candidate in a close race, is an avid Instagram and Twitter user. He posts photos from campaign stops and meet and greets around the county.

“This campaign is about ideas and I am using social media to share my ideas,” Glass said. “It’s great for interacting with people you might not meet face to face.”

Leventhal manages his own Twitter and Facebook account, often posting catchy punch lines encouraging constituents to plant his lawn signs in their yards.

His favorite, he says, came on April 6: “People who place a Leventhal sign in their yard almost never get stung by hornets.”

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