Obama Takes on Goldman Sachs Through Clever Internet Ad

Google ad sheds light on White House strategy, stirs controversy.

April 20, 2010— -- A new White House ad that pops up on Google searches for "Goldman Sachs SEC" features a plea by President Obama for financial reform, and is creating its own controversy.

The ad is triggering praise as a smart bit of cyber marketing, but is also being cited as possible evidence of White House pressure in a financial investigation.

The first result for a search of the terms "Goldman Sachs SEC" brings users to a sponsored link titled "Help Change Wall Street." Clicking the link takes users to a page on barackobama.com, featuring a photo of the president accompanied by a quote about Wall Street reform and a prompt to register with the site.

"We've seen and lived the consequences of what happens when there's too little accountability on Wall Street and too little protection for Main Street. It is time for real change," the quote reads.

A Democratic Party source confirmed the ad was bought by the White House political wing, Organizing for America, and said it was part of a strategy to purchase Internet ads pegged to the most talked about issues on any given day. The organization buys ads targeting the words people are most often searching. In recent weeks the White House political arm has bought ads with the keywords: "wall street reform," "AIG" and "big bank bailout."

"It is another great example of why the Obama Internet guys are the smartest guys on the block," said Phil Noble founder of Politics Online, a Web site that tracks how the Internet is used in politics.

Google Ad Is Evidence of White House Smarts or Pressure

"A keyword search for advertising is nothing new, but they have incorporated keyword searches into their daily war room activities. These guys are reacting to what's in the news and creating a minute-by-minute strategy," he said.

Critics of the White House contend that the ad is evidence that the Obama administration is using the Security and Exchange Commission's lawsuit against the investment giant to rally support for financial-reform legislation.

"It must be nice for Democrats that the SEC's filing against Goldman Sachs so conveniently fits into their political agenda," Rep. Darell Issa, R-Calif., said in a letter to the SEC.

The White House has denied it was behind the SEC's decision to sue Goldman for allegedly colluding with a hedge fund manager to sell esoteric mortgages, and said the regulator acted independently.

"The SEC doesn't notify the White House of its enforcement actions and certaintly didn't do so in this case," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters.

A Democratic Party source said the ad was purchased on Friday afternoon after news of the SEC lawsuit went public.

Goldman also got in the game, buying an ad that appeared when the same terms "Goldman Sachs SEC" were searched. The ad brought surfers to the company's statement on the SEC suit, but by Tuesday afternoon the ad had been removed.

Sponsored links typically appear in a box above the organically occurring search results in Google or alongside them.