How Do Digital Campaigns Work With Political Campaigns?
How Digital Campaigns Apply to Political Campaigns
Digital campaigns for political causes have come a long way since we ran our first one in 2003 for the League of Conservation Voters in Colorado. We created a pretty rudimentary animated flash ad of gas spewing out of a car driven by Pete Coors. It got some good engagement and was pretty cheap to make, but digital advertising has changed a lot in the years between then and now. Every candidate or organization should be using digital campaigns to some extent, but which platforms and how much money you spend can vary a lot. As people begin spending more time online, our efforts in reaching them must increase as well.
Before you start running any digital campaigns, ask yourself the following questions.
How much money do you have available?
Digital ads can be an efficient use of your money at any budget level. A lot of smaller campaigns can’t afford to run a multi-piece mail program, much less television ads. Digital campaigns allow those with smaller budgets to still strategically reach potential voters or people interested in a specific issue. If your budget is tiny, consider at least running Facebook ads to people who are likely to engage with political content in your area. If you have a bit more funding, you might want to hire a political consultant who can build out a full digital plan for you. For example, they might suggest that you upload a voter file list to a programmatic platform so you can reach people across a wide variety of sites. They may also look into running ads on specific local news sites that you know people in your area frequent or even high-impact segments (larger ads that stick to the top of a page and are very hard to miss).
Another thing to take into consideration here is how large you make your audience pool. Hyper-focused targeting has been popular with candidates in the last few years, but you can miss some potential voters by limiting yourself too much. If you can afford to expand your universe to include more people who might vote for you while still getting ads out at a high enough frequency to make them noticeable, do it.
What is the goal of your ad spend?
For most candidates, the goal is to reach as many people in your potential voter pool as possible. In that case, using a few different tactics to reach them is a good idea to catch as many people in your audience as possible. For example, you can get your ads in front of a lot of people on Facebook, but not everyone has an account. So, it’s worth looking into running ads programmatically to follow your universe around the internet.
Video ads tend to work better for persuasion, so if your goal is more based on GOTV or if you have an issue you have to explain, it’s worth investing in creating a digital-first video. That means that the ad was created to run online instead of just taking a television ad and plopping it on the internet. Check out what it means to make a digital-first video here.
If you’re looking to gather names for a petition or just to expand your email list, we’ve found success with platforms like Care2 and Facebook. Care2 has the benefit of a guaranteed cost per name, although the length of time it takes to fulfill your contract can vary based on how much inventory they have in your area. Facebook conversion ads are also a great option because you can reach people outside of the Care2 network and send them directly to your page to sign up. You can also typically shorten the duration of your conversion campaign on Facebook, the names may just come in at a higher cost.
Who are you trying to reach?
It’s important to try to understand as much about your potential audience pool as you can. Younger people are generally more likely to be cord-cutters and many of them don’t really like traditional mail so digital advertising can be a good way to reach them. That said, there are a lot of older people who like to check in with local news sites regularly and connect with friends and family through Facebook. For instance, we have found on Facebook conversion campaigns that older people tend to require fewer ad impressions before they convert. You can also think about what news sources or local blogs would be trusted by your audience and see if you can run ads there. If you’re running a campaign that’s focused on a particular issue, you’ll also want to see if there are targeting options available to reach people based on their interest in that subject.
How long will the campaign last?
Generally speaking, we would suggest running digital campaigns for a minimum of two weeks. If you get money in the door fast enough and can afford it, we would suggest that you try to run longer than that though. The cost to reach people can be lower when a platform (Facebook, for example) has more time to find people who engage with your ads and then find people like them to serve more ads to. A longer run time can also mean more information and the space to make changes as needed. The longer you run ads, the more metrics you can gather on what creatives people are responding to and what groups of people engage with your ads the most. That means you can pull ads that aren’t performing as well or spend more money on the people who are the most interested in your campaign. Those insights take time to build so the more you can plan ahead, the better off you’ll be.
What geographic area you’re looking to target like?
The platforms you would use for digital campaigns can generally geotarget as granularly as zip codes or a radius around an address. If you’re running in a tricky district that spans multiple zip codes, it might be worth spending some time at the outset figuring out how to create a polygon geofence around that area. The more complicated the district lines are and the less preexisting information on them, the longer it will take for a consultant or vendor to build that out.
The population density of your target area can also make a big difference in how you run digital campaigns. People in more rural areas can be harder to reach since there’s often more variety in the way those people access the internet. It might be worth running more mobile ads in that case, since most people have smartphones regardless of whether they live in a city.
If there’s an issue with a specific geographical area like water contamination, you could try to create a geofence around the homes affected by that contamination to directly address people who are likely to be interested in an ad campaign on that subject. That can be a good way to make a campaign more personal for some people and it’s worth being blunt in your ad copy in that case. An ad that says, “Your water may be contaminated by X. Contact your legislator today” will make more of an impact than one that says, “Contact your legislator about water quality today”.
Digital campaigns aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. There are a lot of questions you need to answer in order to figure out what tactics will work for you and if you should try to run the ads in-house or if you should hire an outside consultant. For more information on what political campaigns should be doing digitally in 2020, check out our blog post here. If you’re interested in working with us to build out your digital campaign, drop us a line here.