Political Advertising: Choose The Right Medium for Your Campaign
Choosing the right political advertising for your political campaign can make the difference between winning and losing. Which political advertising medium a campaign chooses depends largely on their strategic objectives, targets, and, of course, budget. Below is a very general overview of the most common modern candidate campaign communication mediums and their pros and cons. Remember, the key to success is often found in sending a cohesive message across multiple advertising mediums rather than pinning all of your hopes on just one communications method.
Television is often considered a ‘must’ by traditional political consultants. There are a few pretty clear pros to TV that explain why. It offers a high-impact opportunity to engage people using both sight and sound and can play to a wide audience. Also, unlike many digital ads, you can’t fast forward through a TV ad if you’re watching live TV (although you can change the channel).
The cons of television are just as clear. TV media markets are often quite large and television currently offers only limited targeting technology. It’s likely that at least some of the people who see your ad won’t find it relevant to them. They may not even be eligible to vote for you, which is a waste of money. TV can also be prohibitively expensive, especially if you’re running for office in a major media market like New York City.
Direct mail is a tried and true method of targeted political advertising. One of the chief advantages of direct mail is that it is scalable to a variety of budgets. With modern data targeting techniques, direct mail is also very precise. You can often send mail to the specific voters that you would like to target. For example, you could pull a voter file list of people who are likely to vote in your upcoming election, or people that sometimes vote but may be more persuadable to your message. Because you are targeting specific people and have their names and addresses, mail also has a lot of testing opportunities. Once the election is over, you can see how many people in your mailing list voted, and at what rate they voted compared to a control group that didn’t receive any communications from you. Mail tends to have more of an impact with older people, which is a plus considering that they are more likely to vote than younger people.
One con of direct mail is the fact that your audience won’t be as captive as they are on TV or radio. This means you have to work to get your piece to stand out from all the other mail piling up. Further, while there are ways to track engagement (BRM cards, phone call follow-ups, etc.), direct mail does not offer some of the metrics and reporting that, say, digital advertising has. For example, it can be hard to determine if one message performed better with people than another since you won’t get much feedback on mail that doesn’t have a reply device.
Standard terrestrial radio is another traditional method of political advertising. A few of the pros of radio are that fact that it can play to a captive audience (those at work, in their car, etc.) and it is reasonably priced, both in production and for the cost of airtime.
One notable con of traditional radio is that there is no real ability to target who receives your ad, as it is distributed as far and wide as the signal will travel. Also, there are no means of tracking the metrics on who listened to your ad, so you will rarely be able to accurately determine whether your radio campaign was effective. At most, you can get anecdotal data from people you speak to at the doors if you ask them if they’ve heard any of your ads.
Digital advertising (including pre-roll, banners social media ads, digital radio etc.) while much newer than the previous mediums, is now an often-used candidate communication medium. There are many pros to digital advertising. It is the most scalable medium in terms of budget, as one can spend almost any amount on a digital campaign. That means that digital should be a part of pretty much any candidate campaign, even if you’re just boosting posts on Facebook. It also offers precise targeting and detailed reporting and metrics to demonstrate an ad’s effectiveness, often in real-time. Those metrics typically include things like click-through rate, video-completion rate, and if you’re looking at social media, post comments and reactions, etc. Another plus with digital is that new types of ads are being created all the time—simple static ads are now only one option among animated display ads, digital video, digital radio, connected TV, and native advertising. With geo-fencing, you can build a virtual “fence” around a geographic location (for example, a polling place) and serve ads to people on their mobile devices whenever they are within a certain radius of that location.
Cons include the fact that static digital ads generally have limited copy space and thus offer limited opportunities to expand on an issue, although video, audio, and native ads can address that issue. Since Internet privacy laws prevent anyone from knowing who, exactly, saw your ad, it’s also harder to tell how digital advertising impacts GOTV. Another thing that can stymie a political campaign is the incredibly wide array of options for creative and targeting to choose from. One tendency is to hyper-target digital ads, but you can miss potential voters by doing it too much. Rural areas can be hard to target well with digital ads since people’s internet access can vary so much. In some cases, those geographic areas are better served by more traditional mediums like mail, TV, and terrestrial radio.
Like radio and direct mail, print ads have long been a part of candidate communications. Print ads share many of the same traits as radio, in that they have the benefit of potentially reaching a wide audience (depending on the publication).
We don’t typically advise the use of print ads for political advertising but there are a few, very specific use cases. For example, if you’re running in a very down-ballot race and know that your local community regularly reads a publication, it might help you get your name out there. One of the significant cons of print advertising is the fact that they offer little in the way of tracking how people respond to them or potential message testing.
What’s the best type of political advertising to use? To be honest, they answer is ‘more than one’. Sending out your message across multiple mediums makes it less likely that you’ll miss the people you want to reach. A layered approach also increases the frequency with which people are exposed to your message, which makes them more likely to remember it. You’ll want to think about the demographic and geographical makeup of your district to try to figure out which communications methods they’re likely to respond to and prioritize your spend based on what you think will get you the most reach and what other needs, like reporting/tracking metrics, your campaign may have.