April 2023 – How we’re navigating Elon’s Twitter mess to keep our candidates and causes running ads

Over the past year, we’ve all enjoyed busting out the popcorn and watching Elon Musk’s Twitter Odyssey. We’ve reveled in his trials and tribulations with a mix of glee and horror. It’s a slow motion car crash we can’t look away from. But, for us poli-digi advertisers who are:

  • in the midst of legislative session season and view the platform as a fantastic tool for our Public Affairs clients trying to influence elected officials writing laws
  • excited to get our political campaigns back on the platform, especially for Democratic Primaries

Elon’s King Lear-esque waffling and the mass exodus of Twitter staff has made it particularly difficult to navigate and keep our client’s ads running.

What have we learned and where does it go from here? In this newsletter, we’ll break down the current state of the Bird platform affairs and what we’re doing to keep clients advertising.

Where We Were

What have we learned and where does it go from here? In this newsletter, we’ll break down the current state of the Bird platform affairs and what we’re doing to keep clients advertising.

Here’s a quick rundown of political Twitter advertising over the past few years:

October 2019 – Twitter bans political advertising
April 2022 – Elon Musk first attempts to purchase Twitter
Late 2022 – Mass Exodus of advertisers from Twitter
January 2023 – Twitter to reopen political advertising

Since 2019, Twitter advertising for political candidates has been firmly off the table.  However, we have been able to get most of our Public Affairs clients running on Twitter.  The key to this was (and still is) writing Twitter ads copy in a way that doesn’t trigger Twitter’s review robots to flag your content as political.  Staying away from political words – Vote, Governor, legislation, etc. – generally got our Public Affairs clients ads approved.  Sometimes, we’d have to try multiple variations of copy until we found something that got through, but in 99% of cases, we were successful.

Here is an example Twitter ads that we ran in November and December for a Clean Energy client of ours:

Solar Rights Alliance – CPUC_Slash

We also could get away with running lots of “News As Ads” ads on Twitter, which our Public Affairs clients love. Here are a few examples:

Solar Rights Alliance – “News As Ads” LA_Times_11.29.22
Solar Rights Alliance – “News As Ads” SF Chronicle 11.29.22
Solar Rights Alliance – “News As Ads” Headlines Vid

Twitter ads were always relatively cheap and were a great way to reach the chattering class, legislators, and lobbyists for our Public Affairs clients.  When advertisers started fleeing Twitter in late 2022 thanks to Elon’s foibles, Cost Per Thousand Ads (CPM) dropped by about half, making Twitter an even more effective buy. All was well in Twitter world until the last month or so for our Public Affairs clients.

Additionally, after Twitter’s January announcement that political ads are going to be allowed again, we’ve had some limited success running ads for political clients by making ads that didn’t trigger the review robots. Here’s a couple of sample political ads that we ran in a Virginia State Senate Special Election earlier this year:

Lamont Bagby for VA State Senate – Meet Lamont
Lamont Bagby for VA State Senate – Endorsements

Where We Are Now

For about eight months from June 2022 through February 2023, we were in a sweet spot of low cost per ads and ads getting approved under Twitter’s old policy/review process.

Unfortunately, over the past couple of months, Twitter has started rolling out both

  • Its new advertising regime
  • Coding around political ads review

Both of which have been inconsistent and buggy. To elaborate:

A couple of weeks ago, all of our client’s Twitter ads stopped working basically all at once.  We didn’t know what the cause of this was until very recently when Twitter ham-handedly rolled out its new policy that appears to, at least as of the day of this writing,
require all advertisers to have a Twitter Blue or Verified Organization account. Practically, this means Twitter Advertisers need to pay $8/month to get Twitter Blue so that they can run ads.

It is still an open question whether or not the end client’s Twitter account (ie. Solar Rights Alliance or Lamont Bagby) needs the blue checkmark, or if Twitter will be satisfied with the advertising agency paying for the blue checkmark (Ie. COMPETE).  Some advertisers have reportedly been able to run their client’s ads after acquiring the blue checkmark for themselves.  We are currently working to acquire the blue checkmark and see if that is sufficient for our clients to get back up and running.

Additionally, it seems likely that Twitter will bring back something like the political ad certification process it had back in 2018 and 2019, and that other platforms like Facebook Ads and Google Ads require for political advertisers.

Unfortunately, we now find ourselves caught in a purgatory-like transition between old political ads Twitter and new political ads Twitter. It’s hard to know exactly what to do right now, and even if we figure out what to do for the present moment, there are no guarantees that what works today will work tomorrow. It’s very frustrating.

Where We Are Going

Ultimately, I think that Twitter will get to Elon’s stated goal of opening the platform back up fully for political advertising.  Elon is a libertarian after all, and he is trying to recoup revenue he lost from the advertiser exodus.  The most important question is – will Twitter’s user base fundamentally change in a way that makes the platform less appealing to political advertisers? Twitter used to be a haven for politicos and Democratic Primary voters, making it a fantastic platform for poli-digi advertisers.  If Elon scares them all off, that calculus changes.  

We’re hoping that Twitter ads will come back online fully for political and public affairs clients, and that Elon’s unsavoriness doesn’t become too much for the Twitter audience of yore to mass exodus away.  Your guess is as good as ours as to how it all shakes out.

COMPETE Wins Three Reed Awards!

Political award season has come and gone, and, putting aside our qualms with:

  • The distastefulness of political consultants paying someone to give them trophies
  • The morality of attending awards conferences where ⅓ of the folks in attendance supported Donald Trump and his attempts to overthrow the government in some form or fashion

We are proud to share our wins and some of the awesome work we produced with our clients!

Electoral Win: We won “Best Democratic Online Video Ad” for the cartoon we created with AFSCME IE to help Senator Raphael Warnock defeat Herschel Walker:

AFSCME IE – “Hot Air” (Georgia Senate General Persuasion)

If you want to see more of our work on this campaign, check this out:

COMPETE Case Study – AFSCME IE Supporting Senator Raphael Warnock

Public Affairs Wins:
The other two awards we won, “Best Online Video for Public Affairs Campaign” and “Best Use of Digital Out of Home”, both came from our work for Solar Rights Alliance creating and marketing this video:

Solar Rights Alliance – Not Today. Not Tomorrow. Not Ever.

The Digital Out of Home win was for deploying this ad at gas stations around Sacramento.  We were already blanketing the Sacramento power corridor with Digital ads, and figured that Gavin Newsom and his crew are just as likely to gas up as the rest of us, so when our client wanted to deploy additional budget, gas stations became our next play.

If you want to see more of our work on this campaign, check this out:

COMPETE Case Study – Solar Rights Alliance Campaign to Save California Solar

We believe these wins showcase:

  • Our prowess in both electoral and public affairs campaigns.  Whether you’re looking to maximize votes won from your political campaign budget or you’re looking to utilize Digital marketing to achieve your legislative goals, COMPETE is the right partner to help you win.

Want to chat about Twitter advertising? Have questions about our award winning campaigns? Please contact me at the info below.

Zach Mandelblatt

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