By Steve Olson
The Trump team ran 50,000 ad variants during the 2016 election, which is often cited as a reason for their success. However, it's important to note that most of these ad variants were created by tweaking just a few variables. Additionally, the marginal benefit of running so many variants may not be as significant as one would expect.
- Summary Notes
- Modern political campaigns run a lot of ads
- It is easy to create a large number of ad variants
- The benefits of running a large number of ad variants might not be as great as expected
Modern political campaigns run a lot of ads
"After the devastating loss that we Democrats suffered in 2016, all of us looked around for someone or something to blame. Maybe Clinton didn’t hit the Rust Belt enough. Maybe it was Comey’s botched investigation and poorly timed announcements. It could have been the Russians. Or, maybe it was Brad Parscale’s internet wizardry.”
This speaks to the idea that many people believe that the Trump team's success in ran a large number of ad variants was responsible for their victory in the 2016 election. While it is true that a large number of ad variants can be helpful in boosting a campaign's bottom line, there are other factors that could have contributed to the Trump team's success.
"A thing that everyone seems to cite as evidence is the huge number of ad variants they ran.”
There is an assumed efficacy of running large numbers of ad variants in order to generate better results. Though the article goes on explain that it might not be that impressive of a feat.
“Since Senator Kamala Harris has gotten pretty much universal acclaim for her digital (and IRL) campaign launch a couple weeks ago, let’s use her famous 25,000 ad variants as an example.”
It’s important for marketers to understand that the Trump campaign's large number of ad variants is not necessarily evidence of a sophisticated operation.
It is easy to create a large number of ad variants
"To be honest, I’ve worked with clients where my team of two could easily launch with somewhere on the order of 15,000 variants, so it doesn’t even really take a large team." Even a small team can create a large number of ad variants, so it’s not that impressive or inaccessible to the average advertiser. "With 8 main configurable elements to a Facebook ad, you can see how quickly ad variants add up."
It’s amazing how quickly a large number of ad variants can be generated by simply tweaking a few different variables. They note that with just 8 main configurable elements, it's easy to see how one could create a vast number of ad variants. "After all of that, you end up with 5 raised to the 8th power, which is… 390,625 Facebook ad variants, using just with five options for each of eight variables."
This is a crazy number of variants from just 8 variables and 5 examples each.
The benefits of running a large number of ad variants might not be as great as expected
"Most of us involved in the digital sides of the campaign are pretty leery of that last explanation, and so are other experts.”
The common belief is that the Trump campaign's success online can be attributed to the large number of ad variants they ran. While some experts are skeptical of this explanation, the quote acknowledges that the Trump campaign did have success in terms of their digital presence.
“…the marginal benefit may not be quite what you expect. At massive scale, it can certainly boost your bottom line. However, none of us are being too public about those numbers.”
While the benefit of running so many variants may not be as great as one might expect, at scale it can still provide a boost to a campaign's bottom line. However, the author notes that those involved in running these campaigns are often tight-lipped about the actual numbers in order to maintain an advantage over their opponents.