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  • The Voter Formation Project

Finding a Message That Works: What we Know, and What We Don't

During the 2020 cycle, our team ran a program at ACRONYM that took a new approach to registering and mobilizing voters of color. Traditional wisdom told us we should dedicate our resources to one creative track: dry, official-looking ads launched close to election day.

The thing is, we knew this messaging didn’t work with the voters we wanted to reach: if it did, voters of color wouldn’t be registered at rates more than 10% lower than those of their white counterparts. The ACRONYM team had recruited a team of marketing experts from across the private sector, and their best practices suggested we take a different approach:

  • First, we wanted to talk to voters over a long period of time. In the advertising world, companies talk to potential customers over a long period of time, gaining their trust before asking them to take action (buy a product, etc.). We knew that if we were going to ask our audience to take action (register or turn out to vote), we had to build a relationship with them over the course of months, not weeks.

  • Next, we wanted to challenge the assumption that voter registration and mobilization ads had to be boring and official-looking to work. Though we didn’t completely abandon the official-looking ads, we also ran ads that were culturally relevant and looked at home in our audience’s news feed.

Long story short,* our bet paid off. We found that while ACRONYM’s official-looking ads (ones that looked like they came from a Secretary of State’s office) worked better for older, whiter voters, these new, culturally relevant and native-looking ads successfully converted our younger, more diverse audience. Directly targeting voters over the course of several months familiarized them with our brand, and when it came time to ask them to register or make a plan to vote, they were willing to do so through ACRONYM’s websites.

Challenging conventions in political advertising is hard and often unpopular. We get it: there’s a lot on the line. But we also know that the methods being employed today aren’t working for voters of color, and that taking a totally new approach just might. Thanks to the support and vision of leadership at ACRONYM, we had the opportunity to give it a shot. And with more bold, innovative risk-takers in the field, we might just change the way voter registration works for those who need it the most.

Thanks for reading, y’all! Talk soon.

“American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” – James Baldwin

*We promise to give you the long version of the story soon!

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