A Vote for Digital: Marketing Lessons From Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

By Kris Tait, Managing Director at Croud

Votes are expensive things to earn. Latest estimates show spending in the 2020 presidential election was the highest in history – with almost $11 billion spent according to the Center for Responsive Politics – a substantial increase on the $7 billion in 2016. With $6.23 billion of that total directly spent on advertising, it’s easy to understand why advertising effectiveness is front of mind for campaign managers. But it was neither Trump nor Biden who shone the clearest light on how to effectively market an election – it was New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a.k.a. AOC.

As the initial election results indicated no landslide victory for either side, the representative took to Twitter to dispel some myths about ‘underperformance’.

“Ideology and messaging are the spicy convos a lot of people jump to. But sometimes it’s about execution and technical capacity.” – AOC

It is worth listening to AOC’s wisdom when it comes to understanding how to connect with audiences – especially on digital. The House Candidate has amassed over 10 million followers on Twitter, whilst comfortably defeating the incumbent Democratic Representative Joseph Crowley in the 2018 primary elections, despite him outspending her by around 10:1. 

So what can marketers learn from AOC’s digital-first approach?

Spend smart

Politicians and marketers face the same challenges and pressures when it comes to effective use of budget.

Many businesses in the US force themselves into inefficient spending by placing too much focus on appeasing investors, rather than prioritizing genuine business results. Similarly, US politicians invest money into what a politician ‘should do’ – for instance a traditional TV campaign – rather than what is the most effective. Of the $6.23 billion spent in this year’s election, around 69% went to TV, whilst only 15.3% went to digital.

AOC highlighted Arizona’s Democratic candidate Mark Kelly as evidence of what smart spending looks like as part of a broader digital campaign. Kelly spent by far the most on Facebook advertising in the week before the election, and in September, he launched the first Snapchat AR lens for a Senate race. 

The Kelly campaign estimates there are over 1million registered Arizonan voters aged between 18 and 30 on Snapchat – and through his account, the candidate rallied and updated audiences daily. “This is one strategic way the campaign is working to reach young voters in this flippable battleground state where every vote will make the difference on Election Day,” a Kelly spokesperson told The Verge.

Understand the audience 

When it comes to building a direct, personal relationship with an audience, nothing beats social. Whilst Mark Kelly illustrated this through Snapchat, AOC and fellow congresswoman Ilhan Omar took to Twitch to engage with new audiences, live streaming the popular video game Among Us. The results, by any metric, underlined the importance of experimenting and engaging through novel digital channels, with AOC’s channel attracting 439,000 live viewers (for context, the all-time record on Twitch is 628,000 concurrent viewers). For comparison, Trump and Biden’s live-streamed campaign events on Twitch saw total views peak at around 6,000 and 17,000 respectively.

This effort showed a genuine understanding of reaching audiences where they are – and with the content you know will resonate with them. By looking deeper at what a key demographic was interested in, AOC was able to conduct a meaningful dialogue (and create interesting, reusable, meme-sparking content) at virtually no cost.

Get the measure of it 

Finally, smart spending and targeting require smart measurement. Many brands still measure marketing activity with rudimentary metrics, limiting the performance they could potentially drive. Digital provides instantaneous metrics – but these shouldn’t trigger reactionary, short-term actions. As AOC proves with her year-round canvassing – by focussing on a measurement framework that suits your objectives and the type of media you are buying, you’ll have a much better chance of achieving long-term goals.

AOC has shown there are still many innovative, cost-effective ways to understand and connect with audiences through digital – it just requires analysis, a bit of creativity, and a willingness to experiment and engage directly.