June 28, 2018. That was the day I decided I didn’t want to just retweet and send upsetting political news links to my friends. I was tired of waiting for other people to make change happen.
I was analyzing metrics from a digital marketing campaign I ran at my former employer ThirdLove, a D2C women’s underwear startup, when it clicked. Everyday, thousands of women purchase bras by clicking on compelling Facebook ads. No matter how often people say they’re annoyed by ads, numbers always show that ads do indeed work. What if we could apply these marketing tactics to politics to get people to vote?
After a Google search, I signed up to volunteer for Tech for Campaigns (TFC), a brilliant organization that matches technically skilled professionals with progressive and centrist political candidates. I was quickly matched with the amazing Anna V. Eskamani, the Democratic candidate for Florida State House District 47.
Spoiler alert: Anna gets elected to Florida State House, kicking out the Republican incumbent and successfully flipping the seat blue in a highly competitive swing district.
But the route to her victory was not easy.
My Tech for Campaigns (TFC) team and I had a 5-figure marketing budget, 14 weeks, one persistent opposing candidate, and a sole mission to get Anna elected.
Note: The purpose of this post is to explore the importance of the intersection of tech & politics. I’ll spare you from the nitty gritty, technical marketing details, but if you’re interested in learning more, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who is Anna V. Eskamani?
I was incredibly excited to have been matched with Anna. Her platform immediately struck a chord with my personal values—it includes making healthcare more accessible to everyone, fighting for gun safety, prioritizing environmental protection, and ensuring equality for all.
To be honest, I was nervous about my first time speaking to a politician. Would she be relatable? She had only recently been featured on the cover of Time magazine, so I worried I might be too starstruck to approach her.
But during our initial phone intro, I could tell Anna’s passion for always fighting for what’s right was genuine. Her words were raw, unfiltered, yet full of power and realistic optimism. I thought to myself, “These are the kinds of down-to-earth leaders we need.”
I’m not able to do her justice by repeating her story here, but I can say that after our chat, I was reminded why I decided to volunteer 8+ hours a week to her cause.
Anna, a 27-year-old daughter of Iranian immigrants, is now the first Iranian-American lawmaker to be elected in Florida.
Watch this short video to learn more about Anna’s amazingly moving story.
You can also read more about Anna on her website!
Let’s talk about our goals
After our round of intros on this initial phone chat, we got to work.
My wonderful TFC teammates, Doug Weiss (Team Lead), Asya Blue (Visual Designer), Chris Otto (State Lead), and I solidified a roadmap with Anna to reach her digital marketing campaign goals. Together, we came up with the following phases and subsequent objectives:
- Awareness: Drive more followers on Facebook and Instagram in her district.
- Persuasion: Convince moderates and on-the-fence followers to vote for Anna.
- Early voting: Remind voters to send in mail-in ballots and to vote early.
- Voting information & final push: Communicate where & how to vote, and why your voice is important!
Phase 1: Awareness
Anna’s first priority was to increase her number of followers on Facebook & Instagram and educate them about what she stood for. She was already active on social media, all thanks to her buoyant personality and powerful platform, but she wanted to use ads to boost awareness.
My team and I created a flurry of ads, testing everything as tiny as whether a hot pink or subdued blue call-to-action button resonated better. If I had to summarize everything I’ve learned as a digital marketer, it’s to always test as much as you can afford to, even if it seems silly. You never know what works until you try. I learned that this tenet applies to political advertising as well.
We knew we were doing something right when Anna told us that people were starting to recognize her from Facebook ads. In fact, when Anna walked into a local shop, someone said, “Hey, you look really familiar… I think I’ve seen you on my Facebook feed!”
In less than 12 weeks, we increased Anna’s number of followers on Facebook and Instagram by 50%.
Awareness, check. Next up: Persuasion.
Phase 2: Persuasion
This phase was undoubtedly the most challenging for my team.
Anna already had amassed a loyal following organically and from our paid ads. These were people who would almost inevitably vote for her. We needed to cast a wider net now, particularly to draw in on-the-fence followers and moderates.
We heavily promoted educational videos and got scrappy with audience targeting to hammer down Anna’s message to ambivalent voters. Despite some aggressive comments from right-leaning moderates, things were going very well.
People were positively engaging with her ads by not only “liking” them, but also signing up for her email list, donating, and attending her events. Largely in part due to our push on Facebook, hundreds of people turned out at her canvassing and protesting events and they subscribed to her email list via form-fill ads.
That is, until our opponent Stockton Reeves decided to attack Anna.
Despite this attack, Anna wanted to keep a positive attitude and tone to her campaign. She simply asked our team to help defend her true character by creating ads that clarified her stance.
Within a few intense hours, these new ads were up. This was the first time I had felt the reactive nature of a political campaign—we couldn’t just sit around and let her opponent tarnish her reputation.
We needed to react, and we needed to act quickly. Votes were at stake.
Phases 3 & 4: Early Voting and Final Push!
Voting is tricky. People, admittedly including myself, need help with the intricacies of voting. We lose thousands of qualified votes per year due to lack of and inaccessibility of voting education.
My team decided to make this information as readily available as possible through Facebook ads. Not only did the ads remind you to vote in the first place, but simply clicking on the ad led you to where your closest polling station was and its operating hours. We even had ads targeting early voters to remind them to cast their ballots by mail.
We tried to eliminate all barriers to voting by making the information as easy and digestible as possible.
People commented on these ads with messages like, “Thanks for the reminder, Anna! Just mailed in my ballot and voted for you.” The proof was right there, staring me in the face. People cared, and education through ads was helpful and important.
My November 2018 Election Day mostly involved nervously refreshing sites to see whether Anna was in the lead or not. I was confident that Anna would win, but you can never know for sure.
When the good news finally broke via a Tweet by Anna at 5:03 PM PST, I couldn’t stop smiling. We did it!
There was no ambiguity in the numbers—Anna held 60% of the vote, making her the clear winner. We helped flip the seat blue and moved a R+6% district to D+15%.
As the night progressed, other TFC teams won and flipped seats across the country. These wins and losses were important—but knowing that thousands of like-minded volunteers were all united, working toward the same vision was even more exhilarating, win or loss.
I can confidently say that the greatest asset we had in this digital marketing campaign was Anna herself. We leveraged her self-shot iPhone videos to connect with her audience. We pulled her heartfelt copy from her website to help tell her story through ads. We promoted pictures from her Instagram account as ads. We had all the right tools from Anna in order to execute a strong digital marketing campaign.
People loved our ads because Anna’s real and relatable personality shone through them.
Despite Anna’s big win on Election Day, I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad the next morning. This meant the campaign was over and my work was complete. I was truly going to miss working with Anna and my TFC team.
Anna sent the TFC team bumper stickers (she even put a heart next to my name on the envelope!) to thank us for our work. It’s now proudly on my fridge, where it’s a daily reminder of the campaign we all worked on together.
I’ll be back to volunteer again this November. Maybe I’ll even help Anna out with her re-election campaign. What I do know is that I’ve never felt more empowered through my work as a digital marketer, thanks to the amazing team and campaign I worked on.
Here’s a quick infographic on 2018 election results (Anna is featured in it too!). If you’re feeling at all inspired, TFC always need more hands on deck. If you’re a marketer, designer, social media expert, engineer, or data analyst, Tech for Campaigns needs you.