A political-action committee focused on turning out Asian-American voters recently used
’s advertising platform in what it expected would be a cost-effective way to boost its list of supporters and donors.
The AAPI Victory Fund was advised by its media-buying consultant that campaigns typically spend between $5 and $9 on Facebook ads to generate one email address. The group, however, soon changed its strategy after one Facebook push cost it about $279 per email sign-up.
One reason for the high price is a spree in advertising by Democratic presidential campaigns. They are pouring money into Facebook to boost their number of donors by Wednesday to 130,000, a threshold they must meet to appear in the next Democratic presidential debates in September and October.
That surge has sent ad prices skyrocketing for others who use Facebook to target the same Democratic-leaning slice of the electorate, from congressional and more-local political campaigns to advocacy groups, according to more than a dozen political ad buyers.
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In general, because Facebook’s ad systems are auction-based, higher demand for ad space drives up prices—whether measured in the cost per ad served, or the cost to persuade a person to sign up for an email list or make a donation. Other factors that affect price include the type of creative content and the type of audience the buyer is trying to reach.
“Our ad auction is designed to promote a diversity of advertisers—not just those who bid more,” a Facebook spokesman said. “It takes into consideration whether the ad will be interesting and relevant for the person seeing it.”
President Trump leads all 2020 presidential candidates in recent Facebook ad spending.
Top-spending candidates on Facebook ads, May 26 to Aug. 23
Total social ad spending by political advertisers, by month
Since 2016, Facebook has added a number of disclosures aimed at making political ads more transparent and protecting election integrity. On Wednesday, it announced new updates to its guidelines, including requiring more information from political advertisers to make it harder for posts to be misleading and broadening the list of social issues that qualify for special review.
It can cost more than $100 in Facebook advertising to get a donor to give $1 to a presidential campaign, a sharp rise from earlier this year, according to media buyers and digital campaign staffers. Among the 21 candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination, about a third still haven’t attracted enough donations of $1 or more to meet the Democratic National Committee’s debate threshold. Candidates also must reach 2% in certain polls under the requirements, which the DNC is implementing for the first time.
who entered the race in July and reached the donor threshold in mid-August, has spent nearly $3.9 million through Friday on Facebook ads, the most of any Democratic presidential contender, according to Facebook.
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The AAPI Victory Fund, which works to engage and mobilize more Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, was expecting to pay a little more than it would for a typical campaign because its ads were targeted at a very specific audience. But the barrage of presidential ads sent prices far higher than it anticipated.
“I just didn’t have any clue it would price a PAC like ours out of the market,” said
AAPI Victory Fund’s president. The organization is no longer running ads for email acquisition and has broadened the audience it targets on Facebook, which lowers the per-ad cost.
Political advertisers spent $92 million online in the roughly three-month period that ended Aug. 14, up 24% from the same period last year, according to digital-ad research firm Pathmatics. That included a substantial boost in social-media spending.
said, “Demand for political advertising space was bound to increase in an election cycle with an unprecedented number of presidential candidates.” She added that the donor threshold also has led to record engagement in grass-roots fundraising for presidential and other races.
Facebook began sharing information on spending by political campaigns in mid-2018. Its database doesn’t cover the 2016 presidential contest, when 17 Republicans were competing for the nomination and didn’t have to meet a donor threshold to qualify for debates.
The push by Democratic candidates drew at least 2.3 million small-dollar donors to contribute to their campaigns in the first half of the year, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from ActBlue, the online payment platform widely used by Democratic groups.
managing director at progressive political-strategy firm Saguaro Strategies, said his firm, whose clients include Reps.
(D, Calif.) and
(D, Calif.), changed ad tactics in June because of the Facebook price surge. In some cases, the firm has locked in lower prices by buying Facebook ads through its partner networks. It also is changing ad types or advertising elsewhere instead.
chief executive and president at Insights & Strategy, said his client campaigning for a local office in New York City decided to postpone donor list-building through Facebook until the presidential field winnows, when he expects ad prices to fall.
“Every presidential candidate is bombing New York City with fundraising appeals,” he said.
The spending required to get a user to sign up to an email list is generally much lower than the cost of getting a donation to a political campaign. But prices are rising.
founder and chief executive of digital political firm New Blue Interactive, said one of her clients saw its cost-per-acquisition on Facebook more than double to $1.62 in 2019, compared with last year, while another client’s cost nearly tripled.
founder at political consulting firm Pacific Campaign House, which works with the AAPI Victory Fund, tracked the cost per result for another national advocacy nonprofit client. In March 2019, it ranged from $3.46 to $15.41, up from 45 cents to 58 cents a year earlier, she said.
The Facebook price surge for Democrats has given Republicans a competitive advantage, because the GOP doesn’t have a competitive presidential primary to drive up prices, said
vice president of conservative digital ad-buying firm Majority Strategies. “We’re not seeing it on our side,” he said.
—Chad Day contributed to this article.
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