Does it scale? The key question for online campaigning – and Labour’s advertising didn’t

Back in 2013 I gave this unexpectedly slide-free talk about the importance of scale in online campaigning: the smartest communication techniques aren’t much good if they aren’t reaching enough people to have a decent chance of altering the outcome.

The question of scale applies also of course to offline campaigning, and it’s the question on which Labour’s online advertising in 2015 failed.

In an otherwise interesting account of how Labour ran highly targeted adverts for the 2015 general election there is this statistic:

In the end, DSPolitical was able to reach more than 150,000 voters in key targeted constituencies with nearly 10 million pre-roll video and banner ad impressions.

Perhaps because the piece was written by someone from DSPolitical, the 150,000 number is left hanging as if it is impressive and certainly not as if it is a problem. But it is.

Consider this: based on the 2010 general election results, Labour needed to gain 68 seats in 2015. Add in to that 41 Labour MPs in Scotland – all clearly in vulnerable¬†seats – and, let’s say, another 15 Labour held seats that needed help. That makes for 124 seats. So¬†even if Labour’s online adverts were successfully targeted just at voters in those 124 seats, they were reaching only just over 1,200 voters per seat.

That’s enough to help in the most marginal of contests – but only in the most marginal of contests.

The answer to that fundamental question, does it scale?, was for this online advertising campaign by Labour very simple: no.

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