LOS ANGELES Barack Obama, flush with cash and ramping up his advertising in the final weeks before the November 4 election, is making U.S. political history by placing the first presidential campaign ads in online video games.
The Democratic Illinois senator is using the Internet ads, featured in 18 games through Microsoft Corp's (MSFT.O) Xbox Live service, to promote his online voter registration and early balloting drive in 10 battleground states, a campaign spokesman said on Wednesday.
Unprecedented in U.S. presidential politics, the video game buy is targeted mainly at young adult males, who are difficult to reach through more traditional campaign advertising.
"The 18-to-34-year-old male is the mainstream demographic for the hard-core video gamer," said Van Baker, an analyst for Gartner Inc., a technology market research firm in San Jose, California. "They're hard to get to because they don't watch much TV and they don't read a lot, so it's a good venue to get that segment."
The ads appear in games as banners or billboards with an image of Obama, the slogan "Early voting has begun" and a reference to his VoteForChange.com Web site. The site allows users to register online to vote, obtain absentee voter information and find a polling location.
Polls consistently have given Obama, 47, an edge over Republican rival John McCain, 72, among younger voters.
Far from turning his back on more conventional media, however, Obama's campaign last week said he planned to make a prime-time pitch to voters October 29 in a 30-minute ad slated to run on the broadcast networks CBS, NBC and Fox. The latter network said Wednesday it will accommodate the half-hour after Major League Baseball agreed to move the start time of World Series Game 6, should there be one, by about 15 minutes.
A throwback to a campaign ad strategy fairly common in the 1950s and '60s, Obama's long-form ad will mark the first such paid political national telecast since Ross Perot ran a series of them during his independent bid for president in 1992.
Perot's ads drew an average audience of 11.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Obama's video game ads aim to reach a more finely targeted group of potential voters.
The in-game ads are delivered to players through 18 games, ranging from "Guitar Hero 3" and "The Incredible Hulk" to sports titles like "NASCAR 09," "NBA Live 08" and "NFL Tour."
Such ads can be directed to particular geographical areas through the Internet Protocol addresses registered with Internet service providers when players' Xbox 360 consoles go online, Baker said.
Obama's campaign said the game ads are targeted at 10 key states where early voting is available and relatively simple -- Ohio, Iowa, Indiana, Montana, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Nevada, New Mexico, Florida and Colorado.
"These ads will help us expand the reach of VoteForChange.com, so that more people can use this easy tool to find their early vote location and make sure their voice is heard," campaign spokesman Nick Shapiro said.
Nearly 5 million people have visited the VoteForChange.com site since its launch August 25, and more than 774,000 using the site have downloaded a voter registration form to date, his campaign said.
Earlier this month, the Obama campaign placed nationwide VoteForChange ads on users' home pages of the social networking site Facebook.com.
The novel use of interactive media by Obama is further evidence of his substantial funding advantage over McCain, whose campaign is limited to the $84 million in public money he agreed to accept.
Obama raised a record $67 million in August and is expected to perhaps approach $100 million for September, according to the Washington Post, which reported that Obama has been running seven or eight times as many commercials as McCain in some states.
His 30-minute television ads are believed to have cost his campaign roughly $1 million each.
(Editing by Mary Milliken)