Just when it seemed the ailing economy, soaring oil prices and a historically unpopular president would doom John McCain’s electoral aspirations, a funny thing happened while Barack Obama and his media entourage were taking last month’s overseas mid-summer victory lap: America seems to have tired a bit of Obama’s celebrity status, dulling, at least slightly, his glow of invulnerability. Now, with the recent Georgia/Russia conflict causing voters to rethink Obama’s preparedness for the world stage, national polls narrowing, falling site traffic, not to mention 2012 aspirant Hillary Clinton’s posturing for another run, Obama’s success in the fall is less assured than it appeared only a few short weeks ago.
John McCain, given up for dead last summer, has had a surprisingly successful past couple of months. After almost of year of convincing most that his campaign lacked anything in the way of a cohesive online strategy, McCain’s camp has seized on the Internet of late to distribute satirical attack ads to define Obama for the American public. Like Mike Huckabee last winter, the relatively underfunded McCain camp has leveraged YouTube to generate free publicity for his campaign. The ads "Celeb" and "The One," McCain’s most virally successful so far, along with the related well-publicized fight McCain picked with debutant Paris Hilton, helped the presumptive Republican nominee finally get voters to stop and consider that Obama still has to win in November before he can occupy the White House.
The FaceTime chart below illustrates the degree to which McCain, Obama and Ralph Nader are attracting the attention of voters and highlights the degree to which recent developments have helped McCain become much more competitive online. The FaceTime metric looks across candidates’ official websites as well as their related sites on places such as MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and Meetup.com, to measure the total time voters spend with candidates. After months of trailing Obama by a nearly 9 to 1 margin, these well-timed videos helped McCain’s FaceTime share jump to 26% in July…not bad for a candidate mocked for his lack of web savvy.
McCain tactics seem to have worked, so one can only expect more of the same in the weeks leading up to Election Day. Next week’s Democratic Convention will broadcast Obama into tens of millions of American homes. It will be interesting to see whether or not, under the scrutiny of the national stage and the pressure of a resurgent opponent, voters will see in Obama a man ready to lead the nation come January.
As VP of Millward Brown Digital’s financial services, retail and consumer products practices, Matt is responsible for vertical growth and strategy and the delivery of digital insights and best practice marketing consulting to leading Fortune 500 advertisers. Follow Matt on Twitter @mattpace.