Political Digital Advertising on Facebook & Google in 2018

After the 2016 presidential election, Facebook advertising became the hot topic of political advertising and not in all of the best ways. Facebook executives have been called into public and private congressional hearings, figures have come out onto how much was spent on “Fake News”, and many have been left with a bad taste in their mouths.

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There is good news though! The landscape of political advertising is changing in 2018 and we have early Special Election results to show that digital advertising on Facebook, Google and Pandora can ethically produce amazing results. Here are some insights from our first political campaign for a 2018 State Senate special election.

First, let us tell you about this race. It was a special election to fill a State Senate seat that was vacated when the previous Senator was appointed by the Governor to another position. The seat had been held by the same party for 12 years. The candidate our efforts were supporting was the nominee from the other party. Through other agencies, the candidate ran television and mail pieces. Big Rush Marketing managed digital advertising on Facebook, Google Search, Google Display, YouTube & Pandora with funds provided by the state’s political party. As is the nature of the beast, our efforts were not coordinated with the candidate.

The results were nothing short of phenomenal. Our candidate flipped the seat and won by a 59% to 41% margin becoming the youngest State Senator in the history of that state. While we can’t take 100% credit for victory (the great candidate, the volunteers who knocked on countless doors, and others on the ground deserve most of that credit!) we do know that our digital messaging served as a great compliment to the ground campaign and was able to reach thousands of people who ended up voting for the candidate.

Facebook Advertising

Social advertising through Facebook’s platform was the starting point for our strategy. We should probably mention that we did not use any outside or illicitly acquired 3rd party data for this campaign like Cambridge Analytica did. As a Facebook Blueprint certified agency, we do all of our work within Facebook’s terms of service. As part of complying with these terms of service, we also were able to be one of the first to sign up for Facebook’s political advertising verification process which launched right in the middle of this campaign.

59%: Estimated % of candidate’s voters who saw a Facebook ad in the 28 days leading up to the election.

The first part of the social side of our strategy was creating our target audiences. We looked at where the candidate stood on all of the major issues (labor unions, education, etc.) and created audiences through Facebook’s demographics, interests and behavior categories for whom those messages would likely resonate. Since this was a special election, the way to win was turning out the small minority of people that was most likely to vote. A few examples of our audiences (not going to giveaway all of our secrets) were teachers, parents who supported the candidate’s political party, and custom audiences built from website traffic and mail lists.

Once the audiences were in a good place, we started designing the creative to match what those audiences would like. Teachers would see creative of our candidate in the classroom with copy about more education funding. People who visited the political party website would see creative focused on supporting the party’s candidate. People on mail lists would see images similar to the mailers for increased awareness, and so on.

Our campaigns started about 2 months before the election. The goal for the first month was awareness for the election and the candidate to their most likely potential voters. For the final 30 days we focused more on lower funnel conversions like engagements, lead generation, web traffic, etc. We also ran ads to a polling place locator page to people we really wanted to vote.

Other Channels: Google Search, Google Display, YouTube and Pandora

We really feel like Google Search was a secret weapon in this election. We knew people would search for more information about the special election and we wanted to be at the top of the search results. We gradually raised our daily budget for our keywords leading up to the election. On the day of the election, we received 607 clicks on 2,628 searches related to that election in that County. That is a click through rate of roughly 23%.

In order to hit as many likely voters as possible, we knew we wanted to have audio and video components to complement our search and social advertising. Toward this end, YouTube and Pandora were also big channels for our strategy. We did a heavy push on YouTube for the two weeks leading up to the election. Our audio channel was Pandora. They have some nice targeting options specific to political campaigns. To round things out, we also used Google Display ads for some remarketing and increased awareness.

I would estimate that 95+% of our messaging was positive. It was unfortunate to see that our negative ads towards the opponent received great engagement on social media but we were happy to see our candidate win comfortably with a mostly positive campaign.

Summary

Our candidate was outspent on traditional media (television) so winning in the digital space was a must. The opposing party recently won that seat by a 20% margin so it was an exciting victory to flip that county fairly dramatically.

Social media proved to be a fantastic advertising tool for providing specific messaging to specific audiences which we felt was great motivation for potential voters. We wanted to show them that the candidate feels the same way they do or stands up for people like them.

Google Search allowed us to be one of the first resources for people doing research on the special election and the other platforms allowed us to find more people in the other places they choose to spend their time. For the entire campaign across all platforms our cost per 1,000 impressions was $12.50 which is incredibly low for the amount of advertising we were doing. That shows this strategy can scale from a big race to smaller races and ballot measures.

Despite some of the negative headlines and misuses by other advertising companies, we believe this is an example of how digital advertising tools can be used properly to help candidates reach and motivate voters during elections. For more information about our political advertising services and strategies, email clayton@bigrushmarketing.com.

Clayton Clark