From Underdog to U.S. Senator


Google AdWords was a highly effective, low-cost way for the Merkley campaign to achieve many objectives at once. Jeff Merkley began his campaign to become Oregon’s next U.S. Senator as a decided long shot. To defeat his incumbent opponent, he needed to accomplish three goals:

  1. Build his brand, which meant introducing himself and his views to Oregon voters

  2. Raise a campaign war chest by reaching out to potential donors across the country, especially loyal Democrats in California, New York, and Washington, D.C.

  3. Create enthusiasm to ensure a high voter turnout

“Advertising with AdWords worked out better than our wildest imagination. In terms of trackability, affordability, and flexibility, the benefits of AdWords are just a fantastic combination.” Kevin Gottesman, president of Gott Advertising.

When the campaign asked Kevin Gottesman, president of Gott Advertising, to see if online advertising could team with traditional broadcast and print media to achieve those objectives, he turned to Google AdWords for search and display advertising.

“Advertising with AdWords worked out better than our wildest imagination,” says Kevin. “With so many voters now getting their news online, you can reach people who are much more engaged. They’re searching on keywords and looking for political news, not out at the refrigerator during a commercial break.”

The Merkley campaign used AdWords to easily test messaging and targeting alternatives to reach the most relevant audiences.

By tracking user response to different keywords, banner ads, and ad copy, the Merkley team could identify which issues were most important to potential voters.

“It was like doing major focus groups based on which ads performed best,” Kevin says.

The Merkley campaign then optimized its online marketing efforts based on these insights. For example, Kevin discovered that a banner ad showcasing a Sierra Club endorsement was receiving higher clickthrough rates and producing better fundraising responses than banner ads focused on other issues. The Merkley team then decided to make maximum use of that particular endorsement in other banner ads.

AdWords gave Merkley’s campaign the freedom to change messages quickly in response to rapidly changing conditions.

When former Vice President Al Gore headlined a Portland event in support of Merkley, “we ran banner ads on sites throughout the state and were able to encourage a lot of people to attend,” Kevin remembers. “Once we knew Al Gore was coming to Portland, we were able to get this new message out virtually overnight.”

And to build on voter enthusiasm leading up to Election Day, the Merkley team capitalized on the popularity of then-Senator Barack Obama among Portland voters by running banner ads featuring Obama’s endorsement of Merkley.

The Merkley team used AdWords regional and national targeting features to deliver relevant messaging to its core audiences.

In the last week before the election, the team targeted its get-out-the-vote ads to the Portland metro area, Oregon’s largest concentration of voters. “We had the most to gain by getting out the vote in Multnomah County and Portland,” Kevin says.

The team also ran fundraising-focused campaigns across the entire United States.

“On the national level, we used very specific keywords like Jeff Merkley, Oregon Senate, and Oregon Democrat,” Kevin explains. “Over the life of all our keyword-targeted campaigns focused on fundraising, we saw a 10-to-1 ROI, which was a spectacular success.”

Advertising online with AdWords helped the Merkley campaign make its traditional media efforts work more effectively.

The team supported their offline advertising efforts with their online campaigns.

They used custom landing pages to reinforce and build on messages from the campaign’s TV commercials. With AdWords, they could test and optimize for stronger results.

“What’s great about Google AdWords,” Kevin says, “is the ability to rotate many

different banners, keywords, and ad copy, and then test each one to find out what delivers the best ROI, and where you’re getting the lowest cost-per-click. In terms of trackability, affordability, and flexibility, the benefits of AdWords are just a fantastic combination.”

Jennifer Bethel