In recent cycles, Facebook has been the king of political advertising for persuasion as well as paid email acquisition. For our firm, it remains a go-to source for reliably reaching large swaths of older voters.
But those days might be short-lived, for a couple of reasons. Facebook is currently dealing with an exodus of brand advertisers, which could pressure the company to make additional changes to its platform.
Meanwhile, the change it unveiled June 16, which enabled users to opt-out of seeing political ads, likely endangers reach. It also empowers the most extreme candidates whose organic content tends to perform better due to Facebook’s algorithm.
The first impact will be in shifting ad dollars towards programmatic and connected television digital channels.
In many races, a solid majority of voters could be reached on Facebook with average monthly use in many districts climbing as high as 70 percent. In 2019, Pew found that 69 percent of U.S. adults were on Facebook, which skews even higher among likely voters. As those voters opt-out, Facebook’s reach will decline, and media planners will need to become more inventive to reach these new “opt-out” voters.
With Google having gutted their targeting mechanisms, it’s likely that programmatic platforms, like the Trade Desk and Adobe Advertising Cloud, that give access to the open bidding markets will increase their market share. Ironically, this creates an interesting dilemma as money leaves the highly regulated environment of Facebook for much less restrictive areas.
The second impact will be a major increase in the cost of direct response marketing efforts like voter registration, email capture, and online fundraising. Facebook has been even more dominant in these areas because of the ability to match individuals with a strong confidence level with offline lists — and the platform’s ability to optimized towards direct response. For many smaller races, the only viable platform is Facebook, and they’ll permanently be denied access to these donors, activists, and volunteers.
Even for large campaigns that might regularly collect emails at less than a dollar a piece and see a quick return on that investment, these programs might see a 50-percent or greater increase in their acquisition costs.
This will likely lead to demands for better direct response ad units in other platforms and put pressure on digital firms to innovate to meet these demands. The difference between a one-dollar cost per email and $1.50 could very well be the difference between a profitable and money-losing program.
The old rules produced a pretty clear playbook. This new rule has the power to throw that playbook out the window.
Since the new rules only apply to paid advertising, the third, and perhaps most unfortunate, impact will manifest itself in organic posting, encouraging campaigns to “game” the Facebook algorithm with click-bait style — and more extreme — content that will garner high levels of engagement.
This engagement will then result in more reach for the content. While a likely unintended consequence of this policy, it’s the one that could have the most significant impact in November.
While there are still a lot of unknowns about the nature of Facebook’s new policy, how widespread it’ll be adopted, and the possible implications, political agencies, and campaigns should prepare for a dramatically changing advertising landscape. It could be one where organic content has increased importance for reach, where Facebook makes up less of our advertising spend, and where direct response campaigns increasingly cost more.
November is coming fast, and with changes like these, we have a lot of work to do in order to be ready. Buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Mark Harris is a partner at Republican consulting firm ColdSpark, where he has worked on many campaigns, including Marco Rubio’s presidential SuperPAC, former Gov. Bruce Rauner, Sen. Pat Toomey, and others.