Creating Effective Digital Ads for Small Campaigns

September 7, 2021
Digital ads are a quick and easy way for campaigns to reach lots of voters inexpensively. But what works best? As a campaign it can be hard to sort through advice about tactics and advertising.

That’s why I teamed up with Tech for Campaigns to produce a training using their in-depth research on the 2020 election cycle and success stories from Deck’s users.

In this article I’ll talk about what Tech for Campaign’s found in their 2020 Political Digital Advertising Report and how you can use their research to make engaging and targeted ads for cheap using Deck. You can read Tech for Campaigns’ full ad report here.

The 2020 cycle presented new challenges for every campaign. Running in a mostly or completely digital space changes both where voters are and how they can be reached.

In 2020, people spent more time online than ever before: TFC found a 24% increase in screen time for Americans between 2018 and 2020.  In regular campaign times, a candidate could go to a community event to connect with a wide swath of people. But as those community spaces and interactions move online, so too must campaigns outreach efforts.

The pandemic has shown us that campaigns need to change tactics quickly. Digital ads remain important even with a safe return to canvassing and other in person outreach.

Digital ads continue to be important to help new and small campaigns break through and gain name recognition, lower ad spend costs, and more effectively target voters.

Digital ads help candidates with low name recognition win over supporters by putting a candidate’s name and message in front of voters’ eyes multiple times.  Especially for smaller candidates who receive less organic media, this can help increase name recognition.

State Legislator Mickey Dollens flipped his seat in 2016 in Oklahoma’s 93rd District and was up for re-election in 2020. Republicans in Oklahoma have consistently made gains in the state legislature in the last few years, so Dollens was running in a tough race.

Dollens spent about 6% of his budget, or $5,000, boosting Facebook posts right from Deck. He used digital ads to remind his district about the work he had done already, focusing most outreach on persuasion. Dollens had a clear story to tell about his district and used digital ads to reach 15,000 voters an average of 21 times each.

Digital ads are also targeted and cheap, whereas buying TV ads is expensive and covers a wide swath of geography. For smaller races, running Facebook ads is twelve times cheaper per recall lift (or the number of people who remember seeing an ad 2 days later) than TV ads. Smaller campaigns only need to reach a few thousand voters, instead of the tens or even hundreds of thousands of voters covered in a TV ad buy. Using Deck’s targeting tools, campaigns can create ads for specific audiences and advertise directly to that list through Facebook.

Digital ads are also easy. Tech for Campaigns found that boosting existing posts and boosting authentic posts are both ways to increase engagement. Boosting posts instead of creating regular ads is 26% cheaper per recall lift. Boosting posts also allows you as a campaign to find posts that perform well organically and increase their reach with a digital ad spend. Boosting existing posts with high engagement is an easy way to increase the success of your ad.

Tech For Campaigns also founds that more authentic ads perform better. For example, selfie videos where a candidate speaks directly to the camera without post-production editing have a 13% to 40% lower cost per click.
Sally Boccella in a video here speaks directly to the camera about her economic policies and their impact on Colorado. With a budget of $200, this ad created 100,000 digital impressions.

Effective ads start early. Tech For Campaigns found every year that voters’ digital ad engagement falls in each cycle as the election approaches. In the last few weeks of the election season, many voters have either made up their minds or are simply oversaturated with political news. Despite this trend, a full 47% of Google ad spending in 2020 happened in the last eight weeks. To run effective ads, candidates need to start early and test their messages to see what resonates with voters in their district before the GOTV online ad rush.

Digital ads are effective because they are targeted, cheap, and easy to produce. Campaigns should 1) focus on testing their messages early to increase name recognition and avoid the GOTV ad surge, 2) boosting existing posts, 3) and focus on creating authentic digital content.

Deck allows candidates to boost existing posts to targeted lists and monitor their performance right from the app! All state and federal campaigns with VAN get full and free access to Deck. Deck costs $50/month for local campaigns. Email [email protected] to get access to your Deck account through your state party.

To launch a digital ad with Deck first choose a goal. Deck produces targeting scores and lists for persuasion, turnout, registration, organizing, and fundraising. To produce these lists, Deck develops models trained on field data from the DNC, your campaigns VAN outreach, fundraising, and media data. You can find a complete list of data sources here. Using these models, Deck is able to create targeting scores for individual voters that are specific to your campaign in your race. These scores update daily as new information becomes available.

After selecting your universe, Deck lets your campaign boost an existing post directly to your targeted list. You can find our full list of instructions here

You can even monitor the performance of your digital ads right from Deck.

If you’re interested in chatting more about what we’ve discussed in the blog post or learning more about Deck, schedule a live demo here!

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