Digital Ads Out of the Shadows

Hello, we’re the women of Hillary for America’s digital advertising team, and we would like to set a few things straight about our program.

We’ll get this out of the way first: Everything we did, we did with no help from Russia.

We spent 15 months giving supporters a voice and raising money online. And contrary to popular belief, a ton of people love Hillary Clinton! We ran the largest and most profitable online fundraising operation to date. We set goals — like raising more money online via ads than the 2012 Obama campaign — and we surpassed them again and again. Unlike our opponent, we didn’t have to cram our testing into six weeks toward the end of the cycle. From the beginning, we were testing targeting strategies, language and graphic variations. We measured, optimized and modified our program based on longitudinal results from user donation behavior over time. We didn’t make snap judgements, and most importantly, we treated our supporters with respect and gratitude.

And that’s just fundraising.

Our team played a part in achieving several campaign-wide goals including Get Out The Vote, voter persuasion, and event building. We supported a profitable campaign merchandise shop. We registered tens of thousands of voters in the first-ever end-to-end online voter registration program by a presidential campaign. We spoke to and turned out hundreds of thousands more — many of them folks who often get left behind in electoral politics.

Each objective and audience required its own creative, programmatic technique, targeting, measurement, and reporting — and so we operated these programs individually, with specificity and precision.

We partnered with our friends on other floors — we sat on the 10th floor and can promise you it was far from sterile and quiet! — to help us understand who we needed to talk to and what we should be saying. (That would be our Left Brains — thanks, analytics! And our Right Brains — thanks, opinion research!)

By partnering with our incredible tech team, and leaning on powerful new reporting and optimization tools at our disposal, we didn’t need to create millions of ad iterations to be successful. (It only takes us roughly 60 Minutes — get it? — to implement conversion optimization, Brad.) We know when you hear someone say they ran “hundreds of thousand of ads” it sounds impressive. But really, you should be skeptical, not impressed. To us, that sounds like someone with a lot of money, little oversight, and not a lot of strategic understanding of how to implement and optimize ad campaigns.

We all agree there are so many things we could have done better — as a campaign, as a team, as individuals. But the Trump campaign is getting too much credit for running a digital program that may have had a lot of money to blow, but didn’t spend that money at all strategically, from what we can tell.

And the truth here is that they can get away with it, because digital advertising is basically a black hole that not many people understand. Our team half joked that we operated “in the shadows.” Our work doesn’t generate 560,000 retweets, and we didn’t stage the best balloon drop ever. Our content creation, our testing and optimizations, the analytics behind our strategies — all of it took place behind the scenes. We know how much we spent on fundraising versus persuasion ads, but the FEC actually does not track that kind of information. Doesn’t that seem crazy?!

We’re women after Hillary Clinton’s own heart: We — along with the wonderful men on our team — ran our programs methodically. We were smarter, more skilled, and more experienced than the competition. We were more interested in doing the work well than in getting credit for it. Trump’s team, on the other hand, is bragging about a program run haphazardly, with little strategy or oversight, and frankly, dubious efficacy. Because when you’re a star, they let you do it.

Meanwhile, we actually have no way of fact-checking their claims about how they ran their program or how much it contributed to their win. At this point, we don’t even know if there was any Russian involvement — though have a beer with us and we’ll tell you our hunch.

So that brings us to the headline making its way into your feeds: digital ad spending transparency.

If you had told us a year ago that digital ads were going to be the center of an investigation into whether or not a foreign entity influenced our election, well, let’s just say we would have had a “believability” problem — that’s ads talk for an issue that’s so wild voters actually don’t believe it, even if it’s true.

Voters are getting their information online and we need to be able to know what they’re seeing. Digital ad strategy will only become a more central focus of campaigns and FEC reports moving forward — and as digital advertising professionals, we believe that greater transparency in who’s spending what money and where has to accompany that shift. (We’re looking at you, Congress, Facebook and Google.)

Digital advertising is hard and complex. There’s a lot more to it than changing the color scheme millions of times so that your tests couldn’t possibly achieve statistically significant results. We are proud of the team we built and the work we did — and continue to do as digital professionals currently working in tech, marketing, women’s health and wellness, and yes, Democratic politics. Our hope is that the next group of people lucky enough to work for a candidate they love to implement a kickass digital strategy gets to do so in a much more open advertising landscape. It’s time to bring digital ads out of the shadows.



Hillary for America Digital: One Year Later

Lessons learned and a path forward from (some of) the women of the Hillary for America Digital Team

Danielle Butterfield

Written by

Internet Adz for @prioritiesusa, @hillaryclinton, @barackobama, @bpimedia. Sprint, then lean.

Hillary for America Digital: One Year Later

Lessons learned and a path forward from (some of) the women of the Hillary for America Digital Team

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