What’s worse, putting your heart and money into a digital ads program and finding out it’s backfired – or never finding out at all?
Backlash from digital campaigns is more common than many people realize. But there is good news: avoiding it is not impossible. You just have to make sure you take the right steps.
Here are three things smart campaigns are doing with their digital ad programs to avoid this risk, from the state legislative level all the way up.
Go beyond targeting voter file matches
We all love 1:1 ads matching voter records for their accuracy, but they alone aren’t enough. The cost per voter is high and turn-in rates are low, especially with key progressive audiences like youth, people of color, and low-income people.
In a world where you need to go beyond 1:1, and you do, are you sure your targeting isn’t accidentally showing your video to the wrong audience? At best it’s wasted money, at worst your message on abortion rights makes suburban men even more motivated to vote for your opponent.
Working with someone familiar with demographic and interest targeting strategies could save you handfuls of wasted money.
Use a channel-specific creative
It’s fine for a TV ad to start with language like this: “Our opponent says he’s for XYZ, but his track record is insufficient.” But when you run that ad in a digital environment where viewers can skip your ad after a second or two, all they hear is, “This guy’s for XYZ.”
The world of digital ad creative is full of examples like this, where you need a creative that will work in a no-sound environment, which is the default on Facebook, stop the thumb on Instagram and use at better 30 seconds. on Hulu. And yes, if you have half a video budget, you need to go beyond Meta and YouTube.
Taking an extra minute or two to make sure your creation isn’t just digital, but truly channel, can save you from falling victim to unintended consequences.
Leverage pre-flight testing
You can’t always accurately measure the persuasive or mobilizing power of your creation once it’s out in the wild, but you can get a reading of its performance before you say “go”. And with the threat of wasting your hard-earned money, why wouldn’t you?
We’ve lost count at this point of how many times the creative that relied directly on the top-performing polling post ended up bombing when we tested it in a form someone would actually see. That doesn’t mean it was the wrong message – it just means we had to find the right way to deliver it.
Nor does it mean that time spent going back to the drawing board is always fun. The good news is that the more you test and see what works, the less you will have to do. But again, even in the worst case scenario, it’s better to put money into a creation that doesn’t help, or worse: actively hurts.
Services like Grow Progress, Swayable, and Civis offer Democrats and Progressives various combinations of creative testing options, from text to images to video. If you don’t have the time or budget to test video, try a few rounds of text-only quick tests.
You don’t need to launch a statewide campaign to take advantage of these steps to avoid backlash. And at the end of the day, wouldn’t you rather know?
Will Bunnett is director of Clarify Agency and works with Democratic and progressive political and advocacy clients on email, content strategy, digital advertising, and more.