For better or worse, political campaigning and digital advertising will forever be intrinsically linked together. Ever since the 2008 presidential election, it’s played an increasingly prominent role in national elections at every level of government. But digital marketing isn’t exclusively reserved for presidential campaigns. Geo-targeted ad campaigns are becoming the standard for local politicians as well.
The rise of digital and social advertising.
For the past few months, there’s been a lot of national coverage and discussion on the topic of Facebook advertising during the last presidential campaigning cycle — and most of it for the wrong reasons.
Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 election is an important topic with huge national implications, but what is intriguing is how the two major candidates — Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump — spent a combined $81 million of their campaign funding on geo-targeted ad campaigns.
When you look at the 2016 election campaign, there are two major takeaways in terms of digital advertising. For starters,The Washington Post suggests, “[Social media companies need] to adopt policy fixes that will reduce the likelihood of foreign agents advertising directly to Americans. These include restrictions on the use of foreign currency to buy political ads and voluntary transparency measures. Proposals to warn users before sharing false content from dubious sources are positive, too.”
The second takeaway is that geo-targeting works. While both candidates used Facebook, Trump arguably used it more effectively. In a 60 Minutes interview with CBS News, Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign’s digital director, said Facebook ad targeting played a major role in getting Trump into the White House.
As a candidate, Trump targeted very specific profiles with the messages they cared about.
“It was voters in the Rust Belt that cared about their roads being rebuilt, their highways, their bridges. They felt like the world was crumbling. So I started making ads that would show the bridge crumbling,” Parscale said. “You know, that’s microtargeting them. Because I can find the 1,500 people in one town that care about infrastructure. Now, that might be a voter that normally votes Democrat.”
Clinton likely had similar strategies in place, though nobody on her campaign team has been as outspoken on the topic.
The outlook for geo-targeting in local campaigns.
The 2016 election proved that geo-targeting works well on the national scale, but it also paved the way for local politicians to be more strategic with the funding they use for digital ad spend. Despite late adoption — geo-targeting has been successfully leveraged for years in the business world — politicians can expect to see some great returns.
“Being late to the digital party, political as a category has a unique advantage,” says Corey Elliott of Borrell Associates, a media spending consultancy. “Basically, it gets to step into the world of geo-targeting, not to mention other quickly developing areas, like programmatic, with fresh eyes.”
The beauty of geo-targeting for local politicians is that it allows them to reach very specific voters without spending tons of money. The Facebook ad platform is structured in a way that all of the data is already there. All campaigners have to do is use it.
There are four primary methods for targeting voters:
- Geographic targeting. The most common form of targeting, geo-targeting allows politicians to zero in on people in a specific zip code, town, city or region. This reduces the likelihood of wasting ad spend on people outside of a specific voting district.
- Demographic targeting. With this form of targeting, politicians can serve ads to specific groups of people, such as 45-60 year old men who work in blue-collar industries and make less than $50k per year.
- Interest-based targeting. The third form of targeting focuses on interests. For example, a politician could deliver ads to people who are interested in hunting, fishing and outdoor conservation.
- Behavioral targeting. Finally there’s behavioral targeting, which is the practice of targeting people based on actions they’ve taken in the past. Retargeting is the classic example, in which a politician can serve ads to someone who has interacted with one of their advertisements in the past.
These four methods of targeting can be combined and intermixed as needed to further hone in on specific voters at the right time.
The continued evolution of political campaigning.
Every four years, the presidential election cycle is viewed by local politicians and their teams as a campaigning laboratory. They get the opportunity to see what works, what doesn’t, and decide how they want to utilize new trends in their upcoming elections. In the coming rounds of local elections, targeted digital ad campaigns will be the gold standard.