The Biggest Embarrassments of the 2012 (PPC) Campaigns—that you never heard at all.

SpyFu President Mike Roberts discovered some surprises in presidential election internet advertising: “The Romney campaign went a little too wild trying to reach moms and grandmas. We found their ads showing up on extreme search phrases. They’re pretty embarrassing, and they’re pretty much not suitable for work.” *
*Yes, we will disclose them.

I’m going to do my best to hold back on comments my inner 12-year-old want to make. These pitfalls and embarrassments of the 2012 (PPC) Campaigns are their own punchlines.

In the last month of the election, the Mitt Romney presidential campaign bought ads on variations of “mom,” “mother,” and “grandmother.” What they got, instead, was a parade of the internet’s proudest moments.

Grandmas shocked looking at a computer

Ads pointing to appeared on searches like “mom and daughter in bed” and “moms that f*%k.” (Censoring added.)

It gets better. And by better, I mean worse. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Keyword searches that triggered ads for in 2012. (Again, censoring in mine.)

Keyword Broad Global Daily Search Volume
naked mom 6700
naked old grannies 146
mothers f%&ked 3666
mothers f%&king 8200
hot f%&king moms 1350
old f%&king granny 903
moms f%&king sons 3016
f%&kers mom 603
f%&king mother 27433
mother f%&kers 8200
my mom f%&king 4500
old mom f%&k 740
moms that f%&k 33333
f%&k mother 33333

If you add up all those searches, about 3.9 million people saw one of the pages. This isn’t just a novel fluke.

Mitt Romney’s campaign also seemed to broad match on “Mitt,” leaving tamer, but still irrelevant ads running on searches for “oven mitts.” Here, though, they bet on variations of “mom,” “mother,” and “grandmother.” No matter their intention, they apparently failed to consider what millions of people enjoy about the anonymity of the internet—and moms.

This isn’t “take our word for it” territory, either. Links in the keyword list above all point to the screenshot of the actual search where we found the ad.
It seems safe to pull out the Broad Match Blame ™ from the attic for many of these political ad gaffes. Both campaigns set up their ads to appear whenever someone searches for “president” or “obamacare.” There’s no way they can capture every single campaign-related idea that someone would search for, so they go the broad match route. It casts a wide net to include all kinds of searches that happen to use the term the campaigns consider important.

Left untamed, though, broad match can run wild and backfire when a candidate’s ad pops up alongside a search that isn’t exactly presidential. (At least not since the Clinton years.)

Let’s be very clear. The ads that have been running on Google were most likely never intended to run on the searches that they did. That doesn’t change the fact that they did appear. My favorite combination comes with ironic ad copy:

Ad example for Ann Romney

It is easy to give the Obama campaign the online marketing edge. The campaign’s success in social media and digital marketing, as well as the President’s recent Reddit IMA drives its internet credibility. But even with a savvier Adwords campaign, the site hasn’t escaped its own broad match embarrassment:

The ad’s theme: equal pay between men and women. The search? “Does penis size matter to women?”

Search example for

Roberts pointed out a simple solution they overlooked.

“Using a negative match setting protects them from mismatches like these. They can still advertise on ‘mom’-related searches, but negative match tells Google to hold your ad back on searches that include clearly off-topic phrases.”

In fact, the Romney campaign has since figured out its missteps, and it recently cut ads on those searches. The Obama campaign had been using negative match extensively. They just skipped “penis.”

Ah, the old “NSFW” embarrassing match. The SpyFu team is starting to become pretty well-versed on it for the big election cycles.

Not that it’s risqué, but we spotted ads in 2008 for candidate John McCain matching on Google searches for “hot wife.” That got a lot of attention at the time, probably due to the novelty thanks to search engine advertising’s infancy at the time.

Jump ahead four years, and political campaigns have embraced the necessity of search engine ads, even if they are still learning how to navigate them properly. Candidates’ campaigns are making big efforts to connect with potential voters online. SpyFu tracks these ad and keyword combinations, keeping a history of the keywords a site appears on and the exact ad they ran, too.

No one could deny that these ads ran. Thanks to our cached results pages– screen shots of the actual ad that ran on that search—we could serve up indisputable proof. It’s like we entered Fact Checker territory–a growing field in the 2012 elections.


Recommended readings – Using Negative Match Keywords Can Make Your Campaigns Profitable