Moving Your Political Communications into the Digital Era
In the political world where we grew up, candidates reached their voters through door-knocking, robo-calls, TV advertisements and direct mail pieces. But the world where these methods alone are effective has gone the way of the fax machine, the Berlin Wall and Milli Vanilli.
In the new political era, as many as 13.2 million people watched the premier of the second season of “House of Cards,” according to the Hollywood Reporter, and none of them had an opportunity to get a message from your candidate.
Google commissioned a survey earlier this cycle that showed that only 48% of voters watched live TV in previous week. Wouldn’t it be a drag to be running a Congressional campaign in the Chicago media market, spend a million bucks trying to reach 100,000 swing voters in your district on TV - $10 per voter - and have only half your voters watch it?
Similarly, caller ID has made it much less likely that people answer phone calls from numbers they don’t recognize and nobody really knows how many pieces of political mail are being tossed in the trash without being read, and who tosses it more frequently.
The good news is that Americans are migrating to a medium that is cheaper, quicker, easier to quantify and more targetable than those they are leaving behind. According to a study done by eMarketer just last August, the time adults spend online has increased 66% since the last mid-term election. Time spent on non-voice mobile has increased 588% since 2010.
For the price of a direct mail piece, we can reach a voter about 30 times on their laptop, tablet and smart phone. Or to compare to TV, for the aforementioned Chicago campaign spending $10 per swing voter to splatter 1000 gross rating points of broadcast TV all over Chicago, we can deliver a precisely voter-targeted video to any of that voter’s online devices 343 times.
Put another way, voter-targeted video is more than 34 times more cost effective than TV in the Chicago media market.
The math works in smaller markets as well. Charlottesville, Virginia is the 168th largest media market in the nation, out of 210. Assuming 100,000 swing voters in a Congressional race, it would cost about 38 cents each to reach them ten times on broadcast TV. To target those voters ten times digitally would cost 29 cents each in Charlottesville.
And to be clear, I’m doing this math assuming that 100% of the television ads are going to be seen by the voters for whom they were intended, rather than being fast-forwarded through by the more than half of voters are not watching live TV, as implied by the Google study.
In this new era, the political benefits normally associated with a few big spending campaigns on TV are being democratized. If you are running the campaign to pass a bond issue in Scottsdale, AZ, where you can expect 40,000 voters, putting 1000 gross rating points on Phoenix television would be daunting. In the past, you would not be able to reach voters using the rich and persuasive medium of video. Now you can now target all 40,000 voters on their computers, their laptops and their smart phones with ten views of video each for about $11,000.
All that being said, don’t stop buying TV ads or sending out mail. The new reality is that a robust online strategy complements and amplifies the traditional way of reaching voters.
Send online ads to the same people who receive your mail to reinforce your message. Use online video to plug the holes in your TV buy. All the data we have seen shows that the combination of media is more effective than the sum of the parts.
So far, this has been a lot of “why to” on the “how to” page.
A few thoughts for the “how to:”
- Think of an online ad campaign as if it were a mail piece. Going back to the 100,000 swing voters example, you can household that number to roughly 60,000 in a suburban district. Multiply that times about $.45 per piece of mail and you come to about $27,000 for a single mailing. Say it takes 5 pieces to burn in a particular message. You are a political professional and have your own number – plug it in. If we go with 5 pieces, that portion of your mail program costs $135,000.
- Now take that same universe and target it online and on mobile. The exact same universe, because you can. Most of the data I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a lot) suggests that it takes at least 20 banner ad impressions to burn in a message. That comes to about $28,000, or about the same as a mail piece.
- Cancel a mail piece. Add voter-targeted online ads. Expect better results.
Overall, the concept is this: With the fracturing of a voter’s attention, you need to communicate with that voter through as many channels as possible.
Your voter drops into Starbucks on her way to work, and sees your ad on her smartphone while she is standing in line. At work she clicks over to foodnetwork.com to try to figure out something new to make for dinner and sees your banner ad. When she gets home, she gets the mail and sees a mail piece from your candidate. After dinner, she picks up her tablet and goes to fitnessblender.com for some ideas on new exercises to do at the gym in the morning, and gets a 15 second pre-roll from your candidate in front of the demonstration video. Before she goes to bed, she turns on the 10 o’clock news and sees a 30 second commercial from your candidate.