Going for Gold, and the White House: How we Mobilized Swing Voters for Biden
by Amy Garland
As political advertisers, the last presidential election presented bigger challenges than just persuading people to vote for Joe Biden; we needed to educate voters on the numerous ways they could vote and on all the specific, sometimes confusing deadlines — all in the middle of a pandemic.
In partnership with the Biden for America team, we won five of the six swing states our program invested in and educated more people on how and where to vote than the margin of victory in each state. And just recently, our historic voter turnout campaign won the Best in Show — Gold at the Pollie Awards.
So, how did we mobilize swing voters during a global pandemic, run a historic voter turnout campaign, win the election, and take home the best in show at the Pollie Awards? We created moments within our audiences’ daily tasks to create urgency to get out the vote. We built trust and used credible voices to tell our campaign story to get out the facts. We tested new media formats and worked with over 70 media partners to reach the diverse group of voters we knew we needed to mobilize to win.
Moments + Making a Plan
We knew getting early votes and encouraging people to make a voting plan would be crucial to winning. Rather than just telling people when or how to vote, we created moments to integrate voting into their daily routines. We wanted to show swing voters that election day wasn’t just one day and that you could vote through multiple mediums on and before November 3.
To do this, we ran high impact sponsorships across 30 digital partners, reaching people in places they frequent daily, whether it was taking over their favorite weather app or surrounding the homepage of their local news outlet. We ran takeover media placements for a week surrounding Vote Early Day (10/24), creating a moment and giving swing voters another push to vote. The consistent, frequent messaging and high impact localized ads reached more than 4.7MM voters and drove 7k polling place lookups.
Building Trust with Surrogates
Biden for America had many trusted surrogates on their side — from fellow democratic elected officials, to celebrities and athletes. While it’s easy to want to push surrogate messaging out to the masses, showcasing all these great, well-known Biden supporters, it’s more efficient and effective to target those who have interests related to a specific surrogate. For example, we promoted a video of Lizzo encouraging people to vote early in her hometown of Detroit, Michigan. By mapping creatives back to interests, we were able to increase conversions.
Working with trusted sources to tell corporate and nonprofit stories is something we find success in, too. Whether it’s using a social media influencer or promoting a news article written about our client from a trusted news outlet; all of these are ways of using surrogates to reach your audience.
Test and Learn Mentality
We move fast in politics. Priorities can shift, audiences change with new research, and media vendors are constantly changing what political advertisers can and can’t do. When planning media around politics, you have to be nimble and willing to test new placements. Throughout our mobilization campaign, we ran with more than 70+ partners across social, programmatic, search, audio, and high impact takeovers. We tested gaming partnerships and integrations to reach an often difficult to persuade audience. We worked with vendors who could produce native content to their sites for podcasts and takeovers. We worked with a variety of OTT partners to capture new viewership habits. With the rise of streaming in 2020 and the fragmented landscape, it was necessary to work with new partners to narrow the gaps we faced in reaching the most important voters.
We ran short test flights to get initial data on these new ad formats and let the data show us what was working well in mobilizing our audience. Ultimately, we saw our media mix was successful in driving vote by mail ballot requests, voter registrations, and polling place look-ups.
In a social, political, and media landscape where everything had changed, we knew very few old voter mobilization tactics would work. That’s why we flipped the script — meeting voters where they were to make voting part of their daily routine, using surrogates to build trust, and pivoting to new platforms to reach the most important voters — to win the election.