Sen. Mark Kirk’s first campaign ad reaping digital dividends

SHARE Sen. Mark Kirk’s first campaign ad reaping digital dividends
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U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk waves as he marks his return to the Senate by walking up the steps to the Senate door on Jan. 3, 2013. | Getty Images

Sen. Mark Kirk’s first television re-election ad, focusing on his comeback from a massive stroke, is reaping big dividends after taking off on a variety of social media platforms.

Kevin Artl, the campaign manager for the Illinois Republican, told me the 60-second spot did so well on the digital front that it has become a potentially potent “force multiplier.”

The commercial started running on May 14 in the two Illinois broadcast and cable television markets reaching most of the voters in the state: Chicago and the combined Champaign-Urbana/Springfield/Decatur area. Artl said the plan is for the spot to continue into June.

Produced by Larry McCarthy of McCarthy Hennings Whalen Inc., Kirk’s Washington, D.C., media consultant, the commercial uses video of Kirk’s 2013 Senate step climb, shot the day Kirk returned to the Capitol after nearly a year absence because of the stroke.

The spot, titled “Courage,” leverages Kirk’s compelling personal story – a central campaign theme. It earned free media buzz in Illinois and national news outlets. Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post said the ad was “terrific.”

With that momentum, Kirk’s team moved it around social media channels “and also on our digital platforms,” Artl said, “and we had great response and I think we had within 48 hours over 50,000 YouTube views on the ad alone, and then, over a quarter million impressions through the other digital platforms, so it had incredible reach inside the state of Illinois.”

Artl shared with me a summary of the digital pickup for “Courage” between May 14 and Friday. An “impression” is someone watching a part of the ad; a “view” is a look at the whole thing.

  • Facebook:52,091 impressions, 22,567 views
  • YouTube: 459,216 impressions, 52,168 views
  • Digital targets:313,642 impressions, 295,441 views

Kirk’s digital targets were folks sent the ad by the campaign based on demographics and politics, such as suburban independents. A person had to click on the ad for it to count.

“We aggressively pushed it on our platforms; we encouraged volunteers to share it. So it did, not to overuse the term, but it went viral and a lot of people have seen it,” Artl said.

The Kirk campaign also was able to glean digital intelligence culled from emails sent to their target audiences about the spot. The campaign tested, among other things, the best time to send those emails, the most effective subject lines and what kind of message it takes to get them connected to the Kirk campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

The “critique” on Republicans “is that we’re not as digital savvy” as Democrats, Artl said. “But I think Mark has made this a key component of his campaign and he wants to make sure that we are at the top of our game on the digital side.”

In 2010, a nonpresidential year, Kirk beat Democrat Alexi Giannoulias by only 2 percentage points. Kirk now is a top Democratic target.

From the Kirk campaign’s perspective, the strategy is to reintroduce him to Illinois voters on his terms using his enormously sympathetic narrative.

He’ll probably be facing Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and her storyis as inspiring andpowerful as Kirk’s.

She presents a host of challenges for Kirk, being female, a new mother and Asian–American.

Moreover, she lost her legs and the use of an arm when the Army helicopter she was piloting was shot down in Iraq.

A reason to start advertising early is that with Duckworth as a likely rival, Kirk’s compelling narrative is not distinct.

Democratic operatives I talked to were puzzled why Kirk went up with paid advertising so early.

The digital success of “Courage,” said Artl, “gave us the ability to test a lot of options, see which options worked, and also kind of build out, you know, our digital infrastructure 18 months in advance of the election.So it was a great stepping off point for us, but there is still a lot more to do.”

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