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Campaigns turn to Internet for political ads

Fewer restrictions on Web advertising

John Kerry is compared to a cicada in an RNC ad running only on the Internet.
John F. Kerry
George W. Bush
Democratic candidates

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Want to watch John Kerry morph into a cicada?

The Democratic presidential hopeful does just that in a Republican National Committee ad. But you won't find it on television. That ad is running on the Internet.

It's part of a boom in Internet campaign advertising, a development that plays to the medium's unique strengths.

On the Web, candidates can target voters with great specificity, like the cooks and homemakers who flock to or the sportsmen who click over to sites devoted to golf.

There is one problem though. The spots are hard to find and easier to ignore.

"With television, you're buying a big audience," said Evan Tracey, an analyst who tracks political ad spending. "So people may not want to watch your television ad, but they're stuck there. They're gonna watch it anyway. With the Web, they're gonna click right past it."

Web ads tend to hit a lot harder than their TV counterparts.

Why? For one thing, they're not bound by campaign finance laws and aren't required to include disclaimers. On television, for example, you will likely hear this line on any Bush-Cheney campaign ad: "I'm George W. Bush and I approve of this message."

Also, Web ads are sometimes designed to get the attention of reporters -- as opposed to voters. And when reporters broadcast or write stories about the ad, they get even bigger play.

It's worth noting that the president's first negative ad against Kerry ran online. That spot criticized Kerry as being beholden to "special interests" and unlike television spots, Bush didn't take any credit for approving the message.

"It was a way for him to generate headlines without having to use the larger megaphone of television, but he was able to get the press to cover it," Tracey said.

There's another benefit to Web ads -- they're cheap. Spending on television campaign ads runs into the millions of dollars, but ads on the Web only cost in the thousands.

CNN's Claire Brinberg contributed to this report.

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