This week we’re taking a look at how campaigns and party committees are spending their digital dollars. We tracked every ad run by a candidate committee or House/Senate caucus from July 9-15, including approximately how much they spent on the ad and what the primary purpose of the ad was. We’re breaking down ads into three categories: persuasion, list building, and event building.
All three types of ads have their advantages.
Early persuasion ads can reach voters before they’re overwhelmed with campaign messaging later in the cycle, but persuasion effects wear off without continued engagement. Early list building ads can get donors in the door earlier, but the cost per acquisition can be higher when the race is less salient. Event building ads can recruit for canvasses, town halls, and other candidate events, but will likely have a higher cost per sign up than later in the election.
There is frequent overlap between persuasion and list building – an ad with the copy “Candidate X supports policy Y. Join our Team!” and links to an email sign up form is primarily a list building ad. But sharing a candidate’s policy stance could have some persuasive value, depending on which audiences are being targeted. Although we acknowledge categorizing these ads into buckets is somewhat subjective, for this issue, we’re doing it by the primary objective of the ad.
While Facebook’s Ad Library Report gives us (mostly) exact spending figures for how much a campaign or organization spends in total, it only provides a range of spending on individual ads. For simplicity, we’re looking at the top end of the range – if Facebook says that a campaign spent between $100 and $499 on a specific ad, we’ll count the spending on that specific ad as $499. Although an exact breakdown is impossible to create, we can still get a good idea of how campaigns are spending on digital.
Across all campaigns and party committees, approximately 50% of spending went to persuasion ads, while 47% went to list building ads and 3% went to event building ads. Although total spending is mostly split between persuasion and list building ads, each party prioritizes their digital spending differently.
While Republicans are spending on all three types of ads, they’re investing most heavily in early digital persuasion. Although persuasion effects will decay over time, early spending on digital persuasion could pay off for Republican campaigns if they continuously engage voters between now and election day.
Meanwhile, Democrats tended to prioritize list building ads over persuasion. Acquiring lists earlier makes it easier for Democrats to raise money earlier and raise more of it, as the longer a donor is on an email list the more times you can ask them for a donation.
Neither Democrats nor Republicans are spending heavily on event building at the moment, but their email lists can eventually be used to recruit for events later in the election. As the general election moves closer and more campaigns start holding regular canvasses, phonebanks, and other events, the share of digital spending on event building and volunteer asks will likely increase.