Which is worse, pouring your heart, and your money, into a digital ads program and finding out it backfired — or never finding out at all?
Backlash from digital campaigns is more common than many people realize. But there’s good news: avoiding it isn’t impossible. You just have to make sure you take the right steps.
Here are three things smart campaigns do with their digital ads programs to avoid this risk, from the state legislative level all the way on up.
Go beyond voter file match targeting
We all love 1:1 voter file-matched ads for their precision, but they’re not enough on their own. Cost per voter is high, and match rates are low — especially with key progressive audiences like younger people, people of color, and lower income people.
In a world where you have to go beyond 1:1, and you do, how certain are you that your targeting isn’t accidentally showing your video to the wrong audience? At best it’s wasted money, at worst your abortion rights message is making exurban men that much more fired up to vote for your opponent.
Working with someone who knows their way around demographic and interest targeting strategies could save you fistfuls of wasted money.
Use channel-specific creative
It’s fine for a TV ad to start off with language like this: “Our opponent says he’s for XYZ, but his track record falls short.” But when you run that ad in a digital environment where viewers might skip your ad after a second or two, all they hear is, “This guy is for XYZ.”
The world of digital ad creative is full of examples like this, where you need creative that’s going to work in a no-sound environment, which is the default on Facebook, stop the thumb on Instagram, and make the best use of all 30 seconds on Hulu. And yes, if you have half a video budget, you need to be going beyond Meta and YouTube.
Taking an extra minute or two to make sure your creative isn’t just digital-first, but truly channel-first, can keep you from falling victim to unintended consequences.
Leverage pre-flight testing
You can’t always precisely measure the persuasive or mobilizing power of your creative once it’s out in the wild, but you can get a read on how it performs before you say “go.” And with the threat of wasting your hard-raised money staring you down, why wouldn’t you?
We’ve lost count at this point of how many times creative that straightforwardly built on the best-performing poll message ended up bombing when we tested it in a form someone would actually see. That doesn’t mean it was the wrong message — it just means we had to find the right way to deliver it.
That also doesn’t mean that burning time going back to the drawing board is ever fun. The good news is the more you test and see what works, the less you’ll have to. But again, even a worst case scenario beats putting money behind creative that doesn’t help, or worse: actively hurts.
Services like Grow Progress, Swayable, and Civis offer Democrats and progressives various combinations of creative testing options, from text to images to video. If you don’t have the time or budget to test video, try a couple rounds of quick text-only testing.
You don’t have to be running a statewide campaign to take advantage of these steps for avoiding backlash. And at the end of the day, wouldn’t you rather know?
Will Bunnett is a principal at Clarify Agency working with Democratic and progressive political and advocacy clients on email, content strategy, digital advertising, and more.