It used to be essentially impossible for a congressional candidate in one state to raise money from potential supporters in other states in any kind of cost-effective way. It was time-consuming and expensive to identify potential targets and send them mail solicitations. Even email appeals were costly—in manpower, if not in dollars. With Google AdWords and Facebook, everything changes.
Take Jon Runyan, for example. He’s a first-time candidate in New Jersey’s third congressional district challenging an incumbent. But he’s also an ex-Philadelphia Eagles football player, and he played college ball at the University of Michigan. So his campaign has turned to both Google AdWords and Facebook to place ads in front of likely supporters.
People in Michigan using Google to search for "Shoelace"—the nickname of the current Wolverines quarterback—might see an ad for Runyan over on the side. And on Facebook, if you "Like" the Eagles or popular wide receiver DeSean Jackson or the Eagles’ stadium, and you’re within the geographic area that the Runyan campaign is targeting, you may very well see an ad that runs something like "Jon Runyan was one tough football player. Imagine how tough he’ll be in Congress."
"We’re getting emails and $10 contributions from people saying, 'I graduated from Michigan three years after Jon did. I’m happy to support a fellow Wolverine,'" says Frank Luna, a consultant working with the Runyan campaign. Most of the contributions are in small denominations, Luna says, but given that the ads are comparatively cheap compared to other kinds of outreach and advertising, it’s a worthwhile investment. "A lot of people, when they hear 'online advertising,' they hear '[We need to build] a great website.' They think that must cost thousands and thousands of dollars. But it’s not. There’s one ad we’ve had on Facebook that’s had well over 460,000 impressions that cost us no more $130."
Runyan’s not the only one using this strategy. Campaigns across the country have clued into the tactic. "You have to start search [advertising] on day one, and you should start it nationally," says Peter Pasi, executive vice president of emotive, a digital agency working for campaigns in Ohio, Louisiana, and Oregon. "What we’ve seen for every client is that national search is profitable."