Online Advertising Late in an Election Cycle: Focus on Persuasion

Josh Koster and Tyler Davis’s follow-up to yesterday’s piece on early-in-cycle list-building advertising. See also their earlier Ten Commandments of Campaign Social Media, all excerpted from the (free to download) Digital Political Campaigns 101.

Late-Cycle Persuasion Advertising

By Josh Koster and Tyler Davis
Excerpted from Digital Political Campaigns 101

Q: Now it’s almost election day. We’re going up on TV, knocking on doors, etc. What changes?

A: The final weeks of the campaign are an entirely different animal. Be prepared to spend more in a single day than you spent in a month early on. Before you were targeting a tiny audience of influentials and uber-activists. You were prospecting. You were showing a few ads to each audience member to make sure the ones who we’re interested had their opportunity to click their way into your acquisition funnel.

Now you have to talk to voters, a lot. And you’re no longer prospecting. You’re hammering your talking points and message into voters’ heads – whether or not they care enough about your race to actually click on an ad. Be prepared to make it rain impressions of bigger and more expensive online ad creative. Creative that’s meant to be seen. Persuasion advertising is entirely different from acquisition advertising.

The role of online advertising here is not to help you target the rare voter who doesn’t watch TV. It’s to help you get those extra impressions, stay top of mind, and reinforce your message with the majority of an electorate that is spending more and more time online, exposed to a different kind of ad space.

Q: So how do I shift from acquisition advertising and niche awareness advertising to persuasion advertising?

A: Start by disabling the spending caps of your niche campaigns and letting the better performing campaigns run wild. This won’t cost very much if you put care into the initial targeting and kept the campaigns optimized. You’ll just get lots of well-targeted impressions.

As soon as your big TV, radio, and mail pieces drop, the number of people searching for and reading about the race will explode. For your search campaign, replace the acquisition ads with persuasion ads right before this happens and make sure the campaigns are set to spend whatever they can in your district/s. If someone is searching the Internet for information about your candidate, you want to be there. Period.

In the final weeks, it’s time to be everywhere. High impact creative is the name of the game. You need creative that drives numbers just by being seen. (Think 30-second TV spots run as in-stream ads online, above-the-fold banners with animation or video, and really punchy copy, or home page roadblocks.) Follow your communication strategy in determining ad messaging, and buy all of the high impact inventory for your target audience possible.

This is not about reaching some mythical voter who doesn’t watch TV, listen to the radio, or read the newspaper. This audience simply doesn’t exist. This is about reaching American adults who spend as much time online (and not just checking their e-mail) as they do watching TV. It’s about what used to be a traditional 1,000 point buy now hitting more and more people. You’re trying to get some voters from 800 to 1,000 points, and others from 600 to 1,000 points, and so on.

The persuasion campaign should simply reflect your broader communications strategy: hammer voters with your messages. You can easily take your TV ad creative and run it online using in-stream or in-banner video formats to the same audiences (but for far cheaper and arguably more effectively). You can take your mail strategy and show the same micro-messages to the same audiences in image ads. In fact, since there’s no barrier to entry for text ads, you can drive targeted messages that are very compelling to super-niche audiences that would be far too small to bother creating a custom mailer to reach.

Q: How can I expand the reach of my TV ads online?

A: Use in-stream ads from an online video ad network, and buy the same TV shows on the Web that you do on broadcast and cable. This will enable you to expand the reach of your TV campaign. When you’ve bought all of the available inventory there, buy the shows on your TV wish list.

A better strategy is to buy out all of the in-stream video ad inventory available and slowly drop placements that aren’t performing while simultaneously optimizing the creative that pairs best with each placement.

Buy out all of the above-the-fold and high impact news inventory you can find.

Utilize the sophisticated targeting options on Facebook and other sites and networks to be in front of your target demos all the time.

Q: Can a small staff do this on its own?

A: Because of the short amount of time relative to the size of the budget, it may make sense to find a specialist to work as part of your paid media team. This person should understand general political messaging and strategy, the types of online ad units available, how to implement the communication strategy through them, how to hit the target demos, and how to actually produce the ad creative and implement everything.

Just remember that the new objective is to persuade rather than drive acquisitions. Use impressions as a guide for success, then look at how often people are clicking your ads and how much time they are spending on your site.

If you don’t have the luxury of having a specialist on your team, use the lessons from the early cycle acquisition advertising section to walk you through the process.

Q: How do online ads fit into rapid response?

A: If your race is especially contentious, online ads are the single fastest rapid response broadcast medium. Online ads can be the quickest way to respond to a breaking story, attack, or opportunity. Text ad creative, for example, can be live in a matter of minutes, and simple image ad creative in just a couple of hours. In a rapid response scenario, the first place to start is search advertising followed by other digital marketing channels, because people are searching about the attack and you should be there with your side of the story. Next, hit back or respond with banner ads, which can be live within a matter of hours.

More to come in this series of excerpts from Digital Political Campaigns 101 — check back soon.


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Josh Koster
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