Blowout Counties Make the Case for Targeted Ads  

Post Photo

Microtargeting in digital advertising has never been better or more important than it is today.

Nationally, 22% of Americans live in what are referred to as “landslide counties.”  These are localities where one party can expect to earn 75% or better of the vote — a guaranteed win. Shockingly, landslide counties represent more than 80% of the two-party presidential vote in America.

In the ten 2022 Senate battlegrounds, there are 146 landslide counties and 92% of them were won by the GOP in 2020.  However, in total votes, Democrats won with 53% of the actual vote. 

Looking at this sorting of counties is yet another lens through which we can experience the growing partisan divide between urban and rural America. Of the super landslide counties nationally (80% or higher), the GOP only has two with a population greater than 50,000, while the Democrats have 22.  Trump’s blowouts were concentrated in small, white, rural counties. In Biden’s they were in major cities, college towns, and counties with large percentages of nonwhite voters.

The GOP has a geographically spread-out electorate living outside city cores.  While GOP voters exist in urban cores, they are expensive to reach and likely have different concerns from their non-urban counterparts.  But reaching rural voters means multiple media markets, local papers with low circulation, and fractured radio and cable penetration.  Democrats face a different challenge.  Voters are piled on top of each other inside expensive media markets, with high barriers to entry.

All of these challenges are ready-made for digital.  Online advertising can overcome the geographic challenges of a spread-out electorate and reach GOP voters living in urban cores who may not otherwise be targeted.  Typically, the concern with digital is reach with quality impressions, but new possibilities offered by OTT/Connected devices allow digital to finally penetrate into television, taking persuasion options far beyond just web video.

In 2020, Donald Trump barely edged out Biden in the 2022 competitive Senate states 50-49 by just one-tenth of a percent, but Trump won just three of the ten states outright leaving Biden with a 7-3 win.  Most of Trump’s margin came out of Florida and Ohio.  Biden posted a solid win in Colorado leaving AZ, GA, NV, NH, NC, PA, and WI as priority battlegrounds in what is a very competitive Senate map.  In all of these states, the margins of victory were less than 75,000 votes.

More than 20% of the nation’s counties gave 80% or more of its two-party presidential votes to either Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

Trump’s blowouts were concentrated in white, rural counties in the greater South, interior West, and Great Plains, while Biden’s were in a smattering of big cities, college towns, and smaller counties with large percentages of heavily Democratic nonwhite voters.

The result is that Trump won his landslide counties by a plurality of 3.2 million votes, while Biden took his 32 super landslide counties by a margin of 4.85 million votes. Put another way: Trump’s averaged less than 5,000 votes per county, while Biden’s average victory exceeded 150,000 votes per county.

Smart campaigns know that some of the most important decisions they will make aren’t about issues, they are about resource allocation. Each side has a limited set of resources (money, volunteers, messages, and time) and must carefully decide how to best use them to drive the greatest impact.

In statewide elections, these tradeoffs can be particularly painful.  In a close election, how you target can make all the difference by understanding where placing your limited resources can drive the greatest impact.

What To Do About Redistricting? It’s Not Nothing!

Post Photo

The redistricting challenge is larger than you think, but so are your options for getting ahead of it.

Redistricting is changing the electoral map and it’s a challenge not to be taken lightly. Are you prepared for the consequences of your district changing?

While many incumbents feel confident their districts are relatively safe, recent trends suggest that complacency is a dangerous choice.

> In the 2010 apportionment process, the average congressional district changed by about 25%, adding roughly 115k new constituents per Member. In fact, the average number of constituents per district has increased dramatically over time. In 1999, districts had about 572k citizens compared with 710k in 2010. This magnifies the impact and cost of shifting populations from one district to another as small changes move large numbers of people.

> In 2020, more than eight incumbents lost their primaries — a record for the past few decades. According to Bloomberg Government, 2020 saw the most House incumbent primary losses in a year without redistricting since 1974. Redistricting years are worse for incumbent losses where, on average, roughly 12 incumbents lose their primaries.

> The average margin of victory in the 2020 elections for a U.S. House race was lower than at any point since at least 2012. At the same time, turnout is reaching historic highs as changes to voting laws create new opportunities for early and mail voting. Incumbents also face declining margins of victory, as the share of incumbents receiving 60% or more of the major party vote has been declining for almost twenty years.

> The tightest U.S. House race in 2020 was in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, where Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) defeated Rita Hart (D) by a margin of just 6 votes out of nearly 400,000 cast. This was the narrowest margin of victory in any U.S. House election since 1984.

The facts align — to simply ignore redistricting can lead to terrible consequences. So, what can you do?

Even in the safest districts, the plan of action is early targeted outreach. Incumbents and first-time candidates alike can benefit from defining themselves early and running lengthy branding/ID campaigns to establish their identity. By starting early and using mostly digital options, many of the most expensive and least efficient options can be avoided such as network TV, mailings, and newspapers.

The priority for any approach would be scale — to get the word out fast in a way that doesn’t bog you down from your existing plan. That leaves two excellent options:

Non-Linear Television (Smart TV, OTT, Connected Devices): Most non-linear TV can easily be targeted by county, zip, or legislative district. Digital television is almost indistinguishable from traditional cable, but your ads make it to the large screen. This allows you to get excellent reach, frequency, and quality of impressions with new voters. Further, since the buys have greater efficiency, you don’t have to spend as much to see results.

Targeted Digital Advertising: Using similar targeting to digital tv or with first-party data, you can reach just your new constituents with targeted messages. Specifically, this allows you to bring to bear hyperlocal targeting highlighting regional/community issues which may provide highly effective.

So, what are you doing to prepare for redistricting?

If you need help, reach out to our team to see what options are best for you.

Future Early Voting Tactics and the Election Day Myth

I’ve heard one too many times from a Republican operative, “Our votes will come in on Election Day.  The numbers are going to change.”

The more I encounter the ‘GOP owns Election Day’ myth, the more frustrated I get.

It’s time not only to come to terms with this defeatist mindset but to embrace new technology and voting methods so we can remain competitive in future elections.

First, let’s debunk that owning Election Day is on its own enough to win.

In 2020, 15 states tracked results by voting method.  In state after state, even competitive battleground states, the expectation that Election Day voters will amount to an advantage always turned up short.

In Maryland, Trump dramatically won Election Day with 59% of the vote and a margin of 78K votes only to be crushed by Biden in early and mail ballots, earning just 29% of the early vote.  The early/mail margin was over 1MM votes.

In North Carolina, just 16% of voters showed up at the polls on Election Day.  While they heavily broke for Trump 65%-35%, Biden focused on absentee by mail winning by 70% and amassing a 421K vote margin.  Trump pulled out a win in this state but failed to achieve a majority.

In Pennsylvania, the problem was overwhelming.  Despite it being a mostly Election Day voting state with only 38% of ballots cast early, Trump’s massive early vote defeat resulted in a painful loss.  He came just 80,000 votes shy out of almost 7MM cast.  His 2:1 advantage at the polls just wasn’t enough to overcome the mailbox.

Does the recent election Virginia offer a different outlook?  Not really.  In many respects, the 2021 Virginia governor’s race looked a lot like Pennsylvania.  Only 36% voted early and less than 100K votes decided the outcome.  The Democrats won the early vote but fell just short of reaching 60%, ultimately costing them the race.  Specifically, the problem was early in-person voting which went only 54% for McAuliffe.  The GOP won Election Day voters with 56% but the large advantage only resulted in a near tie.  The early vote period was where the race was won and lost and the GOP took a more proactive stance towards mobilizing early vote.

The data is clear that focusing on Election Day to the neglect of early vote is mostly debunked as a strategy for success.  When looking at all the states that report results by method of voting, Trump won Election Day voters in all of them but achieved victory in just five.  Only about 27% of ballots in the states we analyzed were cast on Election Day, making deficits earned in early voting almost insurmountable challenges simply due to the scarcity of outstanding votes.  To win, you have to succeed where the voters are, not where you hope they are.

Second, is there any political value in holding your votes until Election Day?  The data says no to that as well.

In 2016, polling by Axios showed that by August, just 8% of voters said there was a chance they may change their minds on who they planned to support.  Four years later in August 2020, Pew saw that number fall to just 5%.  Quinnipiac placed it as low as 3%.  Shockingly, a poll by Newsweek found that 54 percent of likely Trump voters decided more than a year before the election they planned to back him.  Biden had similar numbers, with 48 percent  — even before Biden officially launched his candidacy.  Put another way, by August 95% of voters already were settled on a choice and just waiting for an opportunity to vote.  They said they made no difference.   Indirectly, we see the power of partisanship.  For many races, turnout has overtaken persuasion as the primary strategic objective.  And this makes sense – 71 million people voted for Trump despite all the negative hits on him.

We should now understand that ‘owning Election Day’ strategies are from the outset strategic failures.  Turnout is the first priority, and a rejection of any tool that makes voting easier should be viewed as a massive failure regardless of which party your gut tells you it benefits.

Finally, if turnout has become the critical factor in separating winners and losers, what strategies can campaigns use to maximize turnout?

The whole campaign strategy should be retooled to fully exploit all opportunities to increase turnout and they should include:

> Changing the focal point of turnout:  Currently, GOTV is focused on Election Day with early vote options offered.  New tactics could focus on when voting starts rather than when it finishes.  Messaging can use terminology such as “Vote on of before” or in place of “Vote on November 3” consider trying “Vote after October 1.”

> Altering the way we talk about early voting and fraud:  In many cases, the GOP has framed early voting tools as intentional attempts at creating widespread fraud.  Ballot drop boxes, mailing ballots to all voters, and other methods are just seen as ways to increase votes for one party over another.  In most states, early voting is probably more secure than what occurs on Election Day. Further, if every loss is simply a written-off as fraud, it means democracy is done for.  It’s dangerous for our civic society and our campaigns shouldn’t levy these accusations so lightly.

> Get realistic about fraud:  Why do we think that counting millions of votes all at once, on the same day, in many cases without the aid of technology is a way to improve accuracy and reduce fraud? Little proof exists proving that older methods are more secure. They probably aren’t and we just didn’t see enough to know it.  Realistically, the impacts of most fraud can be overcome simply by increasing scale. If everyone votes the impact of isolated acts of fraud are naturally mitigated.

> Reinventing EDO tactics:  Most campaigns focus their legal teams on Election Day.  Disruptions at polling locations, broken machines, lines at the polls, holding locations open past the end of voting, are all traditional EDO priorities for legal teams to tackle.  It’s time for EDO to shift its focus to pre-election activities including ballot security, chain of custody, timely counting, and transparency.

> Accepting change is here to stay:  Capitalizing on the record-breaking turnout in 2020, 7 states have already announced they intend to make COVID-related voting modifications permanent with many more expanding voting opportunities.  Many will argue the political implications of this and work to resist the changes, but it’s a waste of time for consultants.  That’s like an army already engaged in combat complaining about the hill they find themselves on.  We have to fight to win where we are attacked, not on the battlefield we wish we had.  Changing the game is a challenge is reserved for our candidates….after the win.

> Understanding High Turnout is the now the Norm:  Since 1980, turnout is trending up.  We act surprised every time as if the trend lines aren’t averaging ever upward.  As we strategize, we often rely on historical context tracing trend lines backward instead of forwards.  What if midterms look more like presidential races?  What if that dynamic is here to stay?  We’ve had multiple disruptions in election patterns including COVID, the 2020 election, and redistricting.  There are few convincing arguments that point at a return to normal.  What is up for debate is how much things have changed.

**Blue line is the trendline

> Winning the Turnout Expectations Game:  In many localities, early vote turnout is a visible statistic.  If Democrats are always ahead in early voting and the first ballots counted are Democrat votes, it creates a perception problem for undecided and late-breaking voters who may be discouraged by negative reporting.

In closing, if we were an army, historians would mock us for our refusal to embrace new weapons for equipping our army.  Early voting is an evolution, and it’s time to recognize we are setting ourselves up to make what may be one of the costliest and most common mistakes in history — fighting the last war to win the next one.


Analysis: How Partisan Is Today’s Senate?

Post Photo

By all accounts, the outcome of the 2020 election is historic.

President Trump became only the fourth elected incumbent in the last century to lose, while not one of the 166 Republicans seeking reelection to the House of Representatives lost.

Despite the enormous impact of Biden’s win, it is ushered in by fewer votes than Trump’s shocking win in 2016. If roughly 60,000 Americans in three states made different choices, Donald Trump would have earned 278 electoral votes and still be president. This holds true despite the highest turnout since 1900 and the popular vote margin expanding by about 5.5 million votes in Biden’s favor.

This election also saw the fewest state house switches since 1946, and for the first time since 1884, a Democrat president will take the oath of office without the benefit of a friendly Senate and is governing with the narrowest majority in the House for either party since 1919.

With that in mind, we did an analysis of Senate delegations to predict future trends and understand the true impact of polarization on both elections and governance at the federal level.

To view the interactive map and make your own analysis – click here.

Our analysis looked to discover if senate delegations had senators from the same party or different parties and how that changed over time. The results are fun to sift through and, in many ways, reflect changing regional partisan trends across America.

Here are some interesting facts:

  • Our current Senate is the most partisan senate since World War 2, with just six states having bipartisan delegations. The last time the country experienced this level of political uniformity was in the 1950s.
  • Since World War 2, the Senate has seen more Democratic leadership than Republican with 67% of the 42 Senates being Democrat. From 1939 to 1981, Republicans controlled the Senate only twice for a total of just four years in the majority.
  • The 116 and 117 senates are historically conservative. Their nearest comparators are the 109th Senate in 2005, during the second half of the Bush Administration, and the 84th Senate during the second half of Eisenhower’s first term.
  • Split ticket delegations peaked in the late 1970s and were common throughout most of the 1980s. GOP representation was most consolidated in the 1980s when their single delegation strength peaked.
  • Of the 33 seats up in 2022, 19 are Republican. Trump only won two states with split delegations and neither of them will be on the ballot in ’22.

Four Checks You Can Do TODAY to Get the MOST from Your End-of-Quarter Advertising

Post Photo

Politico will publish its list of top fundraisers from Q2. Will you be in it?

For some campaigns, their end-of-quarter push can account for more than one-third of their total fundraising in that quarter — for some, it’s even more.

That’s why end-of-quarter is make or break time for campaigns. No matter how ‘good’ of a district you’re running in, it’s fundraising excellence that truly separates top-tier candidates from the rest of the pack.

CDI Ads was the top buyer of political acquisition and fundraising advertising in 2020, placing more than $20 million in media. We dove into our data to reveal what made our most successful end-of-quarter campaigns exceptional.

Here are four checks you can do today to maximize your end-of-quarter success with ads:

1. Use Video: If there’s an undeniable king of creatives on Facebook, it’s video. Authentic, selfie-style video was our top driver of donations — which makes sense! Marketing data shows:

  • Almost half of Facebook advertising earnings comes from mobile-first video ads.
  • Compared to a static post, users will spend 5 times more on a post that contains a video. And don’t forget to add captions — they boost viewing times by up to 12%.

2. Have Clear Calls to Action: Ads with clear CTAs have substantially higher click-through rates compared to ads that did not.

Use direct action-oriented terms:

  • Donate Now
  • Take Action
  • Chip In

But beware — Facebook penalizes engagement baiting in post text! So save those action-oriented phrases for images and find novel ways to identify motivation to click inside your post text.

3. Avoid the Learning Phase: Facebook uses machine learning to optimize the delivery of your campaign through a process it calls “the learning phase.”

What is the learning phase? During this period, Facebook is testing:

  • Audiences
  • Delivery times
  • Placements
  • Creatives
  • And more

…all using your money. When an ad set reaches roughly 50 optimization events within a seven-day period, the learning phase ends, and the CPA stabilizes.

We found the best ways to avoid learning phase problems are to hold off on significant changes (which reset the learning phase), and limit your ad sets.

4. Use Look-a-Like Audiences: Custom audiences were by far the most productive source of donors for our campaigns. Facebook uses algorithms to create highly targeted audiences whose demographics and interests are similar to those of your existing page followers or of an upload list, like previous campaign donors. Letting Facebook identify targets you wouldn’t ordinarily reach with your regular ad targeting is an easy form of optimizing your media spend that anyone can do.

What end-of-quarter tactics will you focus on?

If you don’t know where to start or aren’t getting the results you think you deserve, let CDI Ads have a try! Email us at and we’re happy to design and launch end-of-quarter ads for your campaign

Vertical Video Ads are Coming to YouTube

YouTube is embracing vertical video ads to let brands “provide a more seamless mobile experience” for viewers, it revealed at Dmexco today (12 September) where it also revealed plans to sell advertisers video ads based on users’ personalised home feeds.

Advertisers can now snap up slots that fill up a users’ screen when they’re viewing content on YouTube’s mobile app in a similar way to the ads served by the likes of Instagram and Snapchat.

When viewers tap on a vertical video ad they can be redirected an external link, like a company website.

Hyundai is among the brands to have trialed the new creative format, which expands based on the dimensions of the video.

YouTube’s chief product officer Neal Mohan said that, when used in combination with the Google-owned platform’s classic horizontal video formats, the test campaign to promote the automaker’s most recent SUV model resulted in a 33% uplift in brand awareness and a 12% uptick in purchase consideration.

YouTube has long accommodated vertical video uploaded by users – “dynamically adapting” ratios for mobile in line with the way a video has been shot, but today’s announcement marks the first time the company is letting brands serve bespoke vertical creative within its walls.

“It’s actually something we had been hearing from advertisers and their creative agencies for some time, and now we’re happy to deliver it and my expectation is that what they do with it will exceed our expectations from a creativity standpoint,” Mohan told The Drum.

The feature will be available to advertisers buying TrueView products (which brands only pay for it users opt-in to view their ads) and Universal app campaigns.

With more than 70% of YouTube watch time happening on mobile devices and changes in user behaviour owing to the likes of Snapchat, the move makes sense.

“As more video gets shot vertically, we want to take advantage of the full canvas and not just have it rammed into the horizontal [layout] with black bars on the side,” explained Mohan.

YouTube also announced that it will let brands buy inventory in individuals’ Home feeds, meaning companies can serve tailored content against a person’s personalised recommendations.

Mohan said the amount of watch time driven by recommendations on YouTube’s home feed has grown 10-fold over the past three years.

“Just like it’s this engaging place for users, we think it can be a great place for advertisers to connect with them,” he said, adding that both video and “rich display” ads will be able to be bought in this context.

YouTube’s move to bulk up its mobile arsenal comes amid growing competition from Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. The former two platforms have recently rolled out their own fresh video propositions in the form of IGTV and Facebook Watch offering a challenger to YouTube’s flagship offering.

Google Responsive Display Ads Roll Out as New Default Display Format

Google announced this week that responsive display ads (RDA) will be rolling out to all advertisers over the next few months.

Much like Google’s responsive search ads, advertisers provide several inputs and the ads get assembled on the fly by Google’s machine learning algorithms.

Advertisers can add up to 15 images, five headlines, five descriptions and five logos for responsive display ads.

Performance is broken out by asset in a new report located under “View asset details” from the “Ads & extensions” section (as shown in the screen shot above). In the performance column, Google will provide a rating of Best, Good or Low. If there is not enough data collected on an asset, it will be tagged with “Learning.”

The formats will look familiar (examples shown below). Google touts the benefits of responsive ads as time-saving and offering broader reach, as the ads can resize to fit most inventory, including native banner ads and dynamic text ads.

This format also supports dynamic remarketing. To create dynamic responsive display ads, simply associate a feed with your RDA campaign. Google may automatically show tags such as “new,” “hot” or “price drop” on products when appropriate, based on the feed.

See the Google Ads help page for more details on creating RDA campaigns.

Google has been moving in this direction for years now, first introducing responsive ads for display that automatically resize in 2016. Those had fewer asset options, however, and responsive display ads will replace responsive ads for display as they roll out. And then there are Google’s Smart display campaigns which automate just about every aspect of the campaign, from ad creation to bidding. For advertisers that want full control over how their display ads appear, there is still the option to upload your own display ads.

Facebook Updates Ad Metrics to Provide a More Holistic View

Today, people interact with businesses across different platforms and channels—both online and offline. To help businesses better understand the various ways people interact with their business and market accordingly, Facebook has long offered standard events via the Facebook pixel, the Facebook SDK with App Events and the ability to upload offline conversion data. Events are actions that happen on your website, in your app or in person. Standard events are a structured way of communicating these actions to Facebook so they can be used to inform ad targeting, optimization and measurement solutions. Starting today, we’re adding more standard events to serve businesses with various objectives.

Introducing new standard events

In the coming weeks, we’re rolling out more ways to understand the actions people take on your website, in your app or at your store with eight new standard events: Contact, Customize Product, Donate, Find Location, Schedule, Start Trial, Submit Application and Subscribe. Since people interact differently with a business when shopping for shoes vs. when buying a car, we created these new standard events to enable more businesses to understand customer engagement both online and offline. You can learn more about app and pixel events on Facebook Business.

In addition to the new standard events which are available across web, app and offline, we’re introducing two app-specific events: Ad Click and Ad Impression. Ad Click and Ad Impression help apps that monetized with ads understand how people coming to their app from Facebook are engaging in-app.

Updating ad metrics to provide a more holistic view

People interact with businesses across different platforms and channels, so it’s important to evaluate ad performance holistically to account for all the ways people may have interacted with your business and the impact those interactions had on your business results. That’s why we’re replacing cost metrics that only report on interactions on a single channel with metrics that report on the cost of these actions across web, mobile and offline. For example, we’re replacing Cost per Website Purchase, Cost per Mobile App Purchase and Cost per Offline Purchase with a single Cost per Purchase metric. This metric aggregates and collectively reports purchases across all three channels as part of a single, new metric.

You can still calculate channel-specific cost per metrics by dividing your total spend by the number of conversions from the channel you’re interested in. Visit the Advertiser Help Center for a full list of metrics being removed and see what to use in their places.

We also redesigned the customize column selector in Ads Manager to consolidate website, mobile and offline metrics. Previously, you had to select three separate metrics if you wanted a holistic measure of purchases across these channels. Now, you can get this reporting just by selecting one metric.

These improvements are part of our ongoing efforts to build solutions that empower businesses to understand customer interactions and drive better business results.