Digital's Impact On Political Advertising

February 10, 2020

It doesn't take a marketing expert to tell you that digital advertising plays a crucial role in every modern political campaign. You need only log into Facebook to see 2020 candidates already pushing their digital strategies, whether through paid advertisements or less conventional means. In addition to paid ads, some candidates have intentionally staged "viral" moments, hoping that they will generate organic interest, or used platforms like Reddit to host global townhalls. No matter the method, it's clear that digital is at the front of every 2020 candidate's mind.

It's not hard to see why politicians have universally embraced digital advertising. Digital ads are easiest to compare to television ads, which, while still valuable, are expensive and difficult to target (just ask Tom Steyer). While Americans can't expect to escape television ads entirely during this election cycle, especially once the general election begins in earnest, campaigns are quickly recognizing the value of digital ad spend and adjusting their strategies accordingly. Other campaign marketing strategies include branded merchandise, with the MAGA hat being a salient recent example, physical signs and lawn ads, print advertisements, and in-person appearances. Although these more traditional campaign ads are still a part of a well-rounded campaign strategy, they share several pitfalls: they are expensive, relatively inflexible, and it's difficult to directly measure their impact.

But what, exactly, does digital marketing offer campaigns that these dated methods don't?

The major reason that digital advertising is so effective is that it relies on, and generates, massive amounts of data. Using Facebook, Google, or Instagram, campaigns can precisely target certain demographics so that their ads reach their exact audience. Building on this strategy, it's common to develop multiple versions of the same ad that is then delivered to different demographics, depending on which is expected to respond the best. A college student often has different political priorities than a working mom, and digital advertising makes it easy to speak directly to both of these voters with a personalized message.

What's more, digital advertising makes it easier to collect data about voters. Modern campaigns perform intensive data analysis about who interacts with ads and who engages with the campaign further. They deliver different ads to the same demographic to see which is most effective. They even serve the same ad to the same audience at different times to gauge reactions that way. While these latter strategies begin to get expensive, often requiring the help of a dedicated firm, they provide unprecedented insight into voter preferences that can inform messaging through all media.

Data-driven political advertisements are not without controversy. Notably, Facebook faced congressional questioning as to its political advertising policy, which has no provisions to prevent misinformation from reaching undecided voters. The Trump 2016 campaign also received scrutiny for its association with Cambridge Analytica, which used Facebook-based testing to target ads not just by demographics but by personality traits. These potential voters unknowingly gave permission to the firm when they filled out a free personality test on the Facebook platform. And some voters are simply concerned by the same privacy concerns that plague all digital advertising: why do these companies know so much about me, and how can I limit their access to my personal data?

In response to the controversies, Google and Twitter have revised their political advertising policies to limit certain tactics and ad-targeting features. For instance, Google now expressly forbids "deep fakes", or videos that have been altered to give the impression that somebody did or said something that they did not. Facebook has yet to take similar measures. In any case, expect 2020 ads to remain highly targeted, especially on Facebook, though perhaps by less sensitive data on other platforms.

At excelerate Digital, we're not just knowledgeable about political advertising-we're experts at all forms of digital marketing. Whatever your industry, we can help optimize your winning marketing strategy. In 2020, Consider excelerate Digital.

Give us a call at 866-530-2729. to learn more.