by Katie Delahaye Paine
Regardless of who is elected in November, this presidential election will either prove or disprove what has been up until now an essentially unshakeable belief: Buying impressions leads to desired outcomes. In this article we'll do a quick analysis of the current presidential campaign to see if that still holds true. First, some background...
For years, corporate marketers have believed, based on lots of good historic data, that if they buy a certain number of eyeballs -- via TV, radio, print, or digital -- then the people they are targeting will behave in a desired way. They'll buy the shampoo, visit a car showroom, or, in the case of political ads, vote in a particular way.
Citizens United is the supposed game-changing ruling that made it legal in the U.S. for corporations and wealthy individuals to give unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns. In it's wake, huge amounts of money have been raised and spent on political advertising. (See "Charting a Comparison of Global Election Spending" for a comparison of global figures.
Yes, Citizens United did open the financial flood gates, making this the most expensive election in history. And, yes, for traditional media in key swing states it probably will result in the healthiest profits in years.
But, has unlimited money resulted in unlimited votes? Or, to put it a different way, "What if you have plenty of money and can buy all the impressions you want, and yet the public still doesn’t behave the way you want them to?"
Let's put the current campaign through a standard measurement analysis:
Goal: Get enough votes to win on election day.
Audience: Americans registered to vote.
Investment: For Obama: 352.4 million. For Romney 233.4 million. (as of the most recent financial reports)
Benchmarks: Prior campaigns (Obama spent 750 million in 2008), and the success so far of the opposition.
Metrics: Cost per vote (or if you want to get fancy, cost per electoral vote)
Whether you win or lose, donors, supporters, and campaigns will want to know if their dollars are being well spent. Ultimately, the outcome in terms of votes is all that matters, but, from a learning perspective, calculating the cost per vote is much more instructive.
The results so far are interesting. In the 2008 presidential election (which was, until this year, the most expensive campaign in history), McCain was penny wise and pound foolish, spending just $6 per vote and $2,023,852 per electoral vote to lose. Obama spent $11 per vote and $2,029,041 per electoral vote to win.
The FiveThirtyEight blog currently projects that Obama will win 316 electoral college votes compared to Mitt Romney’s 222. That means, so far this year, Obama is spending just $1,948,718 per electoral vote, compared to Romney’s $2,389,464 per electoral vote.
Analysis: This quick study reveals that the massive purchase of eyeballs so far doesn’t seem to be working. As things stand now, it appears that the campaign that has spent the most money has not got the most votes.
What is working is house parties, earned media, social media, and what is known as "the ground game" – personal connections, knocking on neighbor’s doors, and standing around with signs.
Sure, anything can happen in the next few weeks to change the game, but that will just be further proof that it is earned media, online and offline word of mouth, that will determine the result. Not the mass purchase of eyeballs.
Katie Delahaye Paine is Chairman, KDPaine & Partners, (a Salience Insight company), and Chief Marketing Officer of News Group International. KDP&P delivers custom research to measure brand image, public relationships, and engagement. Katie Paine is a dynamic and experienced speaker on public relations and social media measurement. Click here for the schedule of Katie’s upcoming speaking engagements. Katie and Beth Kanter are authors of the book “Measuring the Networked Nonprofit,” to be published this year by Wiley.
The Measurement Standard is a publication of KDPaine & Partners, a company that delivers custom research to measure brand image, public relationships, and engagement. Katie Paine, CEO of KDPaine & Partners, will be glad to talk with you about measurement for your organization.