political ad data

What Can We Learn From Political Ad Data?

This data was originally featured in the January 12, 2022 newsletter found here: https://www.trustinsights.ai/blog/2022/01/inbox-insights-january-12-2022-pros-and-cons-of-marketing-consultants-political-ad-data/

In this week’s Data Diaries, we’re going to dance near the third rail – meaning, politics. More specifically, we’re going to look at political ad data. As part of increased initiatives for openness and transparency, Google has published political advertising data for ads run on its platforms; as citizens, we can access and download the data to investigate it and see how political campaigns are using Google Ads.

In a look at over 100,000 political ads logged by Google, we see some interesting findings:

Ad Targeting Data

First, we see that in terms of ad impressions successfully served – our outcome we’re examining in this data set – on a percentage basis, video ads performed the best. Unsurprisingly, the more an advertiser spent, the better their results. All other things being equal, throwing more money at ads improves performance.

For age and gender targeting, there was no clear, obvious winner; as these are political ads, specific targeting of ages and genders did better than not targeting those basic demographic traits.

Interestingly, the duration of advertisement seemed to have no effect on whether an ad served up a ton of impressions or not; campaign length seems not to matter at least for this class of ads.

When we dig deeper using machine learning to assess which variables have the strongest overall outcome for impressions, we find that it’s actually images, on a per-ad basis, that deliver the goods:

Ad targeting detailed data

What we see is that the image format predicts impression volume best, meaning that ads in these campaigns should definitely include multimedia with a focus on images. Also of interest, no one gender or age group successfully predicted impressions, which meant that at least for these campaigns, their demographic targeting wasn’t effective for achieving the results they sought.

So What?

What’s the point of this exercise? While political ads are definitely a genre of their own, this is one of the few peeks into the Google Ads ecosystem that any of us are permitted to see; ad data is notoriously held close to the vest and advertisers are generally loath to share any kind of performance.

The key takeaways we can glean for our own purposes are to strongly consider other formats besides just text ads. While choices like demographic targeting are easy, and cranking out loads of text ads is easy, these are not options that seem to make a difference in terms of ad effectiveness. The more difficult things to do – richer media – appear to be differentiators of success.

Methodology: Trust Insights extracted 854,115 ads from Google’s Ad Transparency Project via its BigQuery instance, then filtered for political ads in the United States of America. The timeframe of the data is January 1, 2016 – December 31, 2021. The date of study is January 12, 2022. Trust Insights is the sole sponsor of the study and neither gave nor received compensation for data used, beyond applicable service fees to software vendors, and declares no competing interests.


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