Back in February, I explored what campaigns could buy with a $25,000 digital budget. Now I’d like to present a real-world example.
On April 3, Judge Rebecca Dallet beat out an NRA and Koch-brother-backed candidate to become the first progressive elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court since 1995. Going up against the last candidate endorsed by the NRA prior to the Parkland shooting, there was a lot at stake.
As Dallet’s digital lead on the open-seat race, I was charged with creating an ad plan based on a $25,000 budget. Her approach, in every aspect of the campaign, was to be as strategic as possible, to reach voters with her message as many times as possible, and to leave absolutely nothing to chance. We built our ad plan around this.
Our goals were simple. First and foremost, we needed to convince drop-off, swing voters that this race was worth their votes. Next, we needed to remind our swing and base voters when and where to vote. Finally, we aimed to saturate our audiences, making sure they saw our ads on as many platforms as possible and as many times needed to remind them first to vote and second to vote for us.
Our secondary goal was to supplement our TV ad buy wherever possible. In the markets where we were up, we ran ads to low and moderate television watchers, removing heavy TV fans. That way, we could be sure we weren’t sending ads to the people seeing them on the nightly news everyday. But instead were hitting those who might have only caught our TV ads once or twice. Conversely, we saturated media markets where we were not advertising on TV, with digital and social ads.
Ultimately, we split our budget across digital, social, and search ads, and created both persuasion and turnout ads to run on each.
Then we set to work creating custom ads for each platform, ad type, and desired outcome. We created motion graphic and gif banner ads, four unique videos, and still graphics with date-specific copy, wherever possible.
For instance, we made sure our day-before Facebook ads said, "Find your polling place before tomorrow's election," with the goal that time-specific ads would add a layer personalization and engage more viewers.
Next, we launched search ads. In the weeks leading up to the election, a negative IE began running anti-Dallet search ads that popped up if you searched any iteration of her name. As a result, we allotted more money to search ads so that we could outbid the IE and prevent their ads from delivering.
Sure enough, within minutes of launching our ads, we were outbidding the IE ads. We continued to do so throughout GOTV. We upped our search spend once more heading into Election Day to catch people searching for information on the candidates right before they headed to the polls.
When building our ad plan, we made sure to use all of the data available. From voter file data to polling toplines to custom datasets created by Oracle: we wanted to be as specific as possible in both our approach and our targeting.
And it paid off. For $25k, we delivered 2.4 million impressions and reached nearly one million Wisconsinites. We drove almost 250,000 actions on our ads, including link clicks, came in a tad under budget, and did it all in less than two weeks.
Overall, we helped Dallet win by 12 percent, flip two dozen counties that went for Trump in 2016, and win her opponent's home county — a notoriously conservative district — by double digits.
When it comes to digital, social, and search ads, we now have a very unique ability to use smaller amounts of money to see significant results and have a profound impact. More specifically, we can amplify our field programs, our TV buys, our radio buys, and our earned media with online ads to turn out more voters.
As we build our campaign plans, it’s time to start taking the power of these tools very seriously.
Emily Gittleman is the digital director at 50+1 Strategies, a political advocacy/campaign consulting firm based in Oakland, Calif.