Case Study: How Facebook Ads Defeated a Florida Ballot Initiative

Here’s something to chew on while you’re waiting for those promised Netroots Nation after-action reports: the results of an attempt to use Facebook advertising as the primary paid outreach tool for a ballot-initiative campaign. And though the results as published do not completely rule out the idea that other factors were at play, the ad campaign itself seems to have been a deciding factor in defeating a Florida initiative that would have led to larger class sizes in the state’s public schools. And, it was the product of Chong & Koster, which is cool because Josh Koster is a long-time reader and hence an all-around smart guy.

Key Takeaways

The article contains plenty of details that you should definitely check out, but here are a few key takeaways:

  • The campaign used Facebook Ads for two key purposes, first to research the effectiveness of different message points to various demographics, and second to “saturate Facebook users in Florida with targeted messages in the month prior to the election.”

  • The campaign used geo-targeting to place its ads in front of residents of the two most populous counties in the state.
  • It also used polling data to identify the initial demographics to research, which were then hit with different messages and imagery to measure how well they worked with each distinct audience.
  • Besides breaking people down demographically, the campaign also tried interest-targeting, for instance reaching folks who listed “math teacher” or “I love my son” on their Facebook profiles.
  • The results of this testing helped to drive the campaign’s other online advertising, influencing the content and targeting of display (banner) ads and video ads.
  • Though the Facebook element of the outreach effort ran for two months, the bulk of the impressions landed in the four weeks prior to the election — the early ads provided the research, while the later ads provided the saturation.
  • Website visitor tracking (I’m presuming via cookie) let the campaign target banner ads at people who had been to the site, reinforcing its messaging through many different online channels (and no doubt making a few people think that this group was stalking them).

Read the full article for the results (hint: they served some 75 million ad impressions, and they won), but here’s an excerpt:

“Where the Facebook Ads appeared, we did almost 20 percentage points better than where they didn’t,” says Josh. “Within that area, the people who saw the ads were 17 percent more likely to vote our way than the people who didn’t. Within that group, the people who voted the way we wanted them to, when asked why, often cited the messages they learned from the Facebook Ads.”

Of course, our academic brethren will decry the absence of a true control group to validate these tactics’ effectiveness, but the numbers sound pretty good from here. Good work!

Update: One more point to note is that an all-online approach like this is perhaps particularly well suited to a low-profile campaign like a typical ballot initiative, since success in this kind of campaign often depends on getting a core group of supporters to the polls. In a campaign to get someone elected, or one involving a higher-profile ballot initiative, Facebook and other online messaging will be competing with TV and radio ads, media coverage, etc., and may not work quite as well. Still, the basic approach seems valid for MANY different issue and electoral campaigns. Political advertisers, ignore it at your peril!



  1. Pingback: Daily Specials

  2. Jessica Baldwin-Philippi

    While also not reaching levels of empirical research, some preliminary interview research that I’ve been conducting has gestured toward similar findings. People seem to be finding Facebook ads to be much more helpful than Google AdWords or ads. This has especially been the case with advocacy organizations and interest group-based orgs (versus campaigns for election), and while I’m sure you’re right that it has lots to do with the need to engage larger media markets (TV, radio, direct mail), I also wonder if there might be other reasons. For one, it seems like the fact that these cases are about single issues (both ballot initiatives and interest groups often have very targeted, specific concerns) might be a reason these types of ads work. Another reason could also be that it’s a low-information election. If that’s the case, I’d be interested to see if these gains hold in a non-issue based, but still low information election (i.e. a ballot initiative alongside a local community advising or even aldermanic election). I’m not sure if that’s the case, but I think it’s worth thinking about, and it’d definitely be interesting to see!

    It was great to meet you quickly at Netroots Nation–looking forward to your report.

  3. Michael Kaiser-Nyman

    I love that you acknowledge the lack of a control group – you must really be a geek to realize that shortcoming! Someone actually attempted to study the effectiveness of banner ads using a randomized controlled experiment last year, but technical challenges made it impossible to finish. Maybe Facebook ads would be easier.

  4. Pingback: Darren Clarke - Marketing 101

  5. Pingback: Facebook Ads Ireland: Sky TV | FACEBOOKNAIJA.COM

  6. Pingback: Facebook Ads To Defeat A Ballot Initiative | FidosWebSolutions

  7. Pingback: Latest Facebook Ads News

  8. Pingback: Cool Facebook Ad images | Advertising on Facebook

  9. Pingback: Facebook Ads To Defeat A Ballot Initiative | iceZone

  10. Pingback: e.politics: online advocacy tools & tactics » Winning in 2012: A Sample Campaign Plan and Related Reading

  11. Pingback: Facebook Ads To Defeat A Ballot Initiative | Google Conversion

  12. Pingback: Online advertising best practices for political campaigns/nonprofits

  13. Pingback: Social Your Campaign up With Some Media – unpopularopinionbyme

  14. Pingback: Social Media & The Power of Politics

Back Top