Political Campaign Advertising for a Tight Budget

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How to Stretch Your Political Campaign Advertising Dollars

Not every candidate has a large budget for political campaign advertising. Digital advertising is generally the most cost-effective paid media strategy, especially if you use self-serve platforms. With platforms like Twitter bowing out of the political space entirely, there is a lot of concern about running political campaign advertising online. Google has already significantly limited the targeting opportunities available to political advertisers and Facebook’s requirements for verification are notorious. That said, you can still run an effective digital campaign with the options available without breaking the bank (or having to contact a sales rep).

Self-Serve Platforms
Self-serve platforms let you run ads without having to pay a fee upfront or connect with a representative. Instead, you create an account and then upload and serve ads directly on that website or network. The most common self-serve online platforms you can still run political campaign advertising on are below:

  • Facebook/Instagram
  • Google Ads/YouTube

You should already have Facebook/Instagram pages for your campaign, and those are generally good places to start running ads. You can do something as simple as boosting a post on Facebook, but we recommend that you run ads through the Business Manager ad platform, so you have more access to targeting options and control over the setup of your buy. By running on Business Manager, you can also pull breakdown reports by delivery that will give you demographic information (like gender and age) about the people who saw and engaged with your ads. This information can be really useful to understanding who your ads are actually reaching.

Targeting Options
While there have been some recent changes that narrow the targeting options on Google, there are still some basic options available that are also options on Facebook. A good place to start is by setting geographic parameters on the area you want your ads to run in. Generally speaking, these platforms give you the option to target by state, city, or ZIP code. On Facebook, you can also drop a pin and create a radius around a location. One instance where you might want to set a radius around a location is if you want to run ads around polling locations during early voting or on Election Day. Since the default setting on these platforms tends to be nationwide, your first step should always be to make sure you’ve set your ads to run in an area where people can actually vote for you.

You can also run ads to a specific gender or age range, which is another area to look at especially if your research shows that gender and age impact how persuadable someone might be to your messaging. On Google, you also have the option to target contextually using placements, keywords, and topic targeting so your ads appear on sites with content that is relevant to your ads.
Facebook has the most options still available for political campaign advertising. Since Facebook also comes with built-in social pressure, it’s critical that you devote some time and money to running ads there. One of the most useful demographic targeting options on Facebook is political leaning (liberal vs. conservative). You might also want to target people who have recently moved if you’re trying to get people to register to vote, or parents if you’re running on an education message.

Digital ad budgets can vary a lot for political campaigns. In small, rural districts you can get away with a much lower budget than you can in a large, densely populated area. The best thing about using a self-serve platform is that you can set your budget to whatever you would like it to be, and there are no minimum spend requirements. That said, if you set it too high you may not spend it in full by Election Day and if you set it too low you might not really get your message out. You can use the audience prediction tools in self-serve platforms to see if it looks like you have too many people in your audience pool for your budget or not enough. As a general rule, everyone in your audience should see your ads more than once but ideally not so often that they get tired of them.

If you’re trying to figure out how long your ads should run, it’s often better to run a shorter campaign with a higher volume of ads closer to Election Day than it is to run a longer program at a low volume. On the low end, digital political campaign advertising might last one to two weeks. Running ads for less than a week can be dicey, though. It can take a few days for the ads to gain scale and start serving at a higher volume. You’ll also want to give the platform a few days for machine learning to kick in so it can serve your ads more efficiently. Additionally, make sure you take into account important dates like early voting and schedule your ads to end when polls close, so you aren’t wasting your money.

Getting Your Ads Approved
The days before when you could run political campaign ads on networks like Facebook, and Google without regulated disclaimers and verifications are long gone. Now, you need to plan a few weeks ahead of running your ads to make sure you go through all of the necessary steps to run political campaign advertising. All of the self-serve platforms require you to prove that your ads are coming from people or organizations based in the US before you can serve ads in any US election. The process varies by platform but in some instances, you will need to wait for a letter to come to your US address via USPS, which can take 7–10 business days
Once your accounts are verified, your ads also have to be approved. This process generally takes around 24 hours. You’ll want to read the specs and guidelines for each platform and ad type carefully to make sure your ads pass inspection the first time. Some common things to look out for are making sure that your ads are sized correctly, your disclaimers have been approved, and you meet creative requirements—for example, Facebook has restrictions on how much text your image can have on it.

Organic Reach
With all of the recent changes to political campaign advertising online, it’s critical that political campaigns have an organic strategy to pair with their paid communications. Your organic reach should include a robust email program that includes sending welcome emails to any new members and regular correspondence with your list. We also recommend that candidates and organizations make a point to use tools like Facebook Live, since Facebook promotes those videos more than videos you just upload to your site. Lives are a great way to connect with your audience in more casual, relatable way. We often suggest that candidates take a Facebook Live while they are out canvassing, interacting with volunteers, speaking at an event, and any other time that gives people a behind-the-scenes look. 

If you’re going to run ads on self-serve platforms, you can do so without spending a ton of money, but it is a time commitment to learn how to use them and to make sure your ads are running correctly. If you have the resources to do so, think about hiring someone to run digital ads for your campaign. This will free up your time to focus on other critical aspects of your campaign. If you have questions about political campaign advertising and would like us to help you run your ads, contact us. You can also take a look at our political campaign strategy tips for more campaign insights.