Additionally, we used our endorsements as key words for Google search ads. For example, we raised $4,180 on Sarah Palin keywords, and only spent $43.96 on these ads. Often underutilized on campaigns, we found search advertising incredibly effective. Even Bing and Yahoo, which only represent 35 percent of online searches, produced a positive return.
Between July 26 and July 31, we spent $365 on Bing and Yahoo advertising and raised $3,525 of of those ads. This was roughly a 10 to 1 return. It shows how successful the ROI on online advertising can be when ads are part of a rapid response strategy. We also used ads to rebut attacks coming from the Dewhurst campaign and his Super PAC allies.
We ran uniquely branded search ads when someone searched “Cruz China” and other attacks that would lead people to a “get the facts” page on the main Cruz site. Online advertising wasn’t used merely as a rapid response mechanism but proactively to promote opposition websites like Dewbious.com. Ads were placed contextually through the Google Display Network on articles mentioning Dewhurst’s name.
Organic support for Ted on Facebook and Twitter was supplemented with ads on both sites. On Election Day, we ran a promoted post advertisement to our fans and fans of our endorsements and received 793,432 impressions, 1,136 clicks, 1,880 likes and 1,098 shares. This way, if our content wasn’t organically showing up on voters’ news feeds, we made our way onto their screen with ads reminding them to go vote.
Throughout the day new “promoted tweets” ads went up to people following Ted on Twitter encouraging them to vote and counting down the hours until voting closed.
Cruz campaign manager John Drogin had the idea to build a branded microsite that would empower Ted’s grassroots supporters. The concept came to fruition when we released CruzCrew.org, which invited volunteers to take on tasks and print out campaign literature. Among its features was an interactive map showcasing Ted’s support county by county across Texas. The site popularly featured a “Grassroots Spotlight” that showcased dedicated volunteers and supporters.
It linked to a Cruz Crew store, where voters could purchase t-shirts and other apparel in support of Ted. Most importantly, the site provided tools for voters to connect and spread the word with their friends easily via Twitter, Facebook and email.
By the end of July, Ted had over 33,000 unique donors, 42,000 donations under $100 and an average donation of $155.58. The campaign utilized online advertising, email fundraising and themed money bombs to successfully raise money online.
When it came to proactive fundraising asks by the campaign, email reigned as the best source of online donations. Thecampaign would plan moneybomb initiatives, sometimes weeks in advance, around notable end-of-quarter deadlines or holidays. Often a branded theme would accompany the money bomb:
“Help launch the Cruz missile” or “Light the torch of liberty!” These microfundraising initiatives would have their own set of branded graphics for ads, the website and emails to ensure that everything was uniform when it came to the visuals. Surprisingly, Facebook and Twitter also raised some money but paled in comparison to money raised via email.
Talk radio listeners were another good fundraising source. During interviews, Ted would push listeners to his website, and the campaign would meet them there with a uniquely branded landing page welcoming listeners of whatever radio show he was on. The money rolled in immediately following his on air requests. This melding of traditional media and new media was important to online fundraising success.
What Does It All Mean?
Virtually every study done on the consumption of mass media by voters still shows the dominance of television. There’s no doubt that TV ads have an impact on persuading voters and moving the needle in public opinion polls. That said, even in a state as big as Texas, talking one on one to voters and utilizing the web as a means to harness support proved incredibly effective.
There’s no doubt where people are spending their time online: Facebook. The average Facebook user spends more than eight hours a month on the social network, and the Cruz campaign wanted to make sure if a voter was on Facebook, they were interacting with us.
On the day of the July 31 runoff, the Cruz campaign outperformed the Dewhurst campaign on social media. In total, the Cruz campaign tweeted 151 times, whereas the Dewhurst campaign tweeted only 11 times. Sixteen of our tweets encouraged voters to head out to the polls, but 135 of those focused on interacting directly with voters. Our effort to interact with voters on Twitter resulted in 2,144 people retweeting us that day, where Dewhurst was only retweeted 64 times.
The campaign’s social media efforts didn’t end there. The Cruz campaign Facebook page was updated 11 times that day, with a total of 2,646 shares and 14,253 likes on our posts. The Dewhurst campaign updated its Facebook page just once, with a measly 49 shares and 392 likes. Additionally, we provided voters with tools to promote our campaign, such as FacebookTimeline covers and profile pictures that touted our #ChooseCruz hashtag.
Make no mistake about it: Ted Cruz’s natural ability to drum up grassroots support and convey the conservative philosophy is what won him the election. Digital simply served as a way to productively channel the energy into Facebook shares, earned media, donations and eventually votes. Every campaign could benefit from a strong digital presence—one that doesn’t simply talk at potential voters but that has a productive conversation with them.
Vincent Harris is CEO of Harris Media, a digital communications and marketing firm. He ran digital communications for the 2012 campaigns of Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich.