If the 2008 election represented the birth of broad digital organizing, it looked like digital might grow up in 2014, but what we actually saw was an awkward teenager reaching some new heights while clumsily knocking things over.
Here’s what worked in digital in 2014—and what didn’t.
Small-dollar Democratic email fundraising
As of late September, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had raised $41 million more in donations under $200 than the National Republican Congressional Committee, per National Journal. There were similar disparities in the top House races.
Emails touting emergencies, match opportunities, and crises to be averted were ruthlessly optimized for the best subject lines and used liberal fundraising platform ActBlue’s one-click donate function. Republican emails attempted to mimic Democrats’ more common practices, but with much less self-assurance—like a concert-goer humming along as his peers sing the words.
Direct fundraising on social
For years it was the zombie prediction that wouldn’t die: fundraising will shift to social media. Did you hear any of that buzz this cycle? Asking for money on social media is like going up to your friends and shouting, “Who wants to help move my couch upstairs this weekend?” Asking over email is like looking your friends in the eye one by one.
Facebook ads amplifying emails
Most political advertising online relies on so-called “last click attribution” to measure effectiveness: somebody saw the ad and clicked to the website, so did they take an action or not? But commercial marketers long ago moved beyond simple last-click models. This cycle we learned that political marketers must, too. My employer, Trilogy Interactive, partnered with Facebook on a study that showed supporters who receive fundraising emails and ads simultaneously contributed 67 percent more via email.
Online political brand management
When all the final votes are tallied, Republicans will likely have picked up more than a dozen House seats, including many of those most competitive races.
Did all those emails about doomed Democrats have an unintended negative consequence? According to the Cook Political Report, the story of Democrats’ House losses was an “epic turnout collapse and motivational deficit.” There were certainly many factors involved in that beyond email, but there’s a reason managers of successful commercial brands don’t hold sales every day.
Shifting persuasion budgets online
People in 2014 didn’t watch TV the way they used to. According to the Off the Grid National Survey 2014, under half of voters now say live TV is their primary way to watch video content—and other than sports, nearly 30 percent did not watch live TV over the past week. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, whose candidates made big gains this year, recommended spending 20 percent of total campaign budgets online.
Panic about outside TV spending
Almost everyone hates it, but post-Citizens United spending isn’t dying down anytime soon. Many campaigns, especially Democratic, appeared to let the threat of outside spending on TV scare them into over-relying on TV themselves, despite opportunities to own more narrowly targeted segments online.
Will Bunnett is a senior strategist at Trilogy Interactive, a Democratic digital strategy firm.