The Center for American Progress (CAP) is an independent nonpartisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas, as well as strong leadership and concerted action. Recently named one of the most influential think tanks of the Biden era, CAP supports policy teams that work across a broad range of progressive issues, from voting rights to climate to immigration reform.
At a critical moment for American democracy, with over 400 bills enacted in 2021 to restrict voter access to the ballot box, CAP’s Democracy and Energy + Environment teams aimed to garner grassroots and grasstops support for the For the People Act (S1) in key swing states. The For the People Act is arguably one of the most important pieces of legislation in a generation – containing scores of pro-voter, anti-corruption solutions designed to give power to people, including communities of color, and to strengthen the foundations of U.S. democracy.
Of particular importance to CAP was drawing the connection between this democracy-saving legislation and its positive implications for climate change and climate action – and reaching voters with this message. Media Cause partnered with CAP’s democracy and environmental policy teams to develop a cross-channel digital campaign – aligned with ongoing coalition efforts and centered around educating and activating constituents in West Virginia, Arizona, Georgia, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire around the For the People Act and its critical importance for sound climate policies.
Sally Hardin, Director, Energy + Environment War Room at CAP
With a Senate markup on the For the People Act slated for May 11th, we needed to launch the campaign well in advance of the vote in order to activate constituents and make their voices heard by their representatives. The real-world urgency of the bill meant that timeliness was important, and we developed a quick-to-market campaign that could get CAP’s messaging in front of audiences as soon as possible.
There were also many opponents to the bill in Congress, including Senators in our target states. Because of the bill’s many opponents and the heightened media attention on the fight to pass this legislation, we faced heavy market saturation and a competitive ad environment – making our ability to craft messaging that resonated with grassroots audiences all the more important.
There were additional audience barriers to action and engagement that we uncovered through our market research, including public sentiment around government effectiveness, and the national versus local juxtaposition. Constituents in each state had different concerns about climate and voting depending on how these factors were directly impacting their livelihoods. For example, a climate message to a voter in West Virginia – where coal is a large part of the state’s economy – will resonate differently than it does with a voter in Arizona, where climate change and unemployment disproportionately affect Latinos and people of color. Media Cause’s research was key to informing CAP about the differences among these constituent beliefs.
The link between S1 and climate was also not a completely intuitive one. It’s a line that we needed to draw to emphasize the political urgency of passing a law like this one. The key was to talk about fundamental American values, while elevating the practical applications of this law – including a government that reflects its citizens on the key issue of climate change and environmental policy.
To ensure that we were addressing all audience barriers and messaging opportunities, we first dove into intentional audience research – taking a look at CAP’s existing audience insights and expanding into market research to understand the state-specific challenges and climate + democracy messaging nuances that resonate with voters in key states. We sought to mitigate any audience barriers to engagement through user experience, positioning, and messaging.
By selecting channels and messaging based on these audience insights and understanding where users spend their time and are likely to engage on issues, the campaign sought to test S1 messaging and raise CAP’s visibility as a thought leader and champion of democracy and sound climate policy. Ultimately, we drove new supporter actions and grew CAP’s email file for subsequent engagement, activation, and fundraising.
We began building our campaign strategy by first digging into CAP’s existing audience insights – looking at owned channels like the CAP website, social, and paid media. CAP also had great polling data available for audience messaging insights around
We complimented our audience research with third-party research, leveraging tools like Google Trends, social listening, and keyword research to understand how audiences were currently talking about and engaging with topics around the For the People Act (also known as S1, or HR1).
Our research found that positive swing voters fell into age and demographic groups that aligned with CAP’s core website and social audiences, and also converged with key targets for the campaign – including people of color, who are most impacted by climate change, and younger people. These positive swing voter groups also fell into demographics that are more likely to support climate legislation and take action.
The six states that CAP identified as targets spanned the U.S. and represented markedly different political climates. A state’s relationship to environmental issues and the mindset of its senators were key factors in tailoring the correct message.
CAP provided the Media Cause team with ample resources and polling data on how For the People Act (S1) messaging resonated with the general public, and specific audience segments. However, both CAP’s team and ours were interested in exploring whether there are differences in how people say they behave as compared to how they actually behave. With that in mind, we conducted additional state messaging research on how people were talking about the bill online, and found that the terms “For the People Act” and “HR1” were being widely used, despite the legislation having passed the House, thus becoming S1 as it reached the Senate for consideration.
After developing a messaging strategy for each state, we established our key campaign framing: The For the People Act is common-sense legislation grounded in American values. By defending everyday citizens’ right to shape the course of the United States, this bill paves the way to legislation that reflects the will of people — not moneyed special interests. Nowhere does this come into sharper focus than the climate crisis. A strong majority of voters believe in climate change and support efforts to curb its most damaging effects, yet 139 members of Congress publicly dispute its existence. Fair, open elections would stop gaping disconnects like these and yield laws that reflect the electorate, as they should in a functioning democracy.
Media Cause carefully selected platforms that would allow us to reach our target audiences across different ad experiences with messaging that was likely to resonate. Given the goal of petition signatures, we focused the campaign on paid media efforts that targeted a likely-to-convert audience – honing in on users who have a high propensity to engage with relevant content and ultimately take action and sign a petition.
Our final media mix included VoterX, a programmatic media solution specializing in local, state, and Presidential campaigns, as well as PAC and issue/advocacy initiatives. We also leveraged Facebook and Instagram to capitalize on robust interest targeting to drive petition signatures for S1 and build a larger prospecting audience. Finally, we utilized Google Search ads to reach those searching for the For the People Act and related terms, to meet high-intent users as they were seeking to learn more about the legislation.
We tested numerous creative iterations throughout the campaign, beginning with a creative and messaging test for each state. To do this, we leveraged Facebook’s Dynamic Creative Optimization for our first phase of ads. Our tests from our first phase of ads informed the messaging and the creative direction we carried into subsequent phases of the campaign.
After launching with stock imagery for our quick-to-market phase 1, we introduced illustrated creative in phase 2 that utilized each state’s outline as a window to the state-specific threats of climate change that each area faces. This was designed to help viewers connect visually to the campaign in a way that felt familiar and relevant.
Our final creative tests included in-platform features like Facebook and Instagram ad polls and video creation tools.
One of our main focuses of this campaign was continuously lowering the CPA or the cost-per-signature. While CAP launched the campaign seeking a general focus on awareness-building – resulting in a higher CPA – our target KPI shifted mid-way to a focus on lead acquisition as the vote results for S1 became more clear over time. Given this shift, we effectively lowered the average cost month-over-month with optimizations to our ads. For FB+IG specifically, we tested new imagery, various ad styles, and audience groups to help lower costs. For Google Search, we implemented certain bidding strategies that helped lower costs during months where search volume surged.
The creative, messaging, and audience testing and optimizations we introduced throughout the length of the campaign led to an 82% decrease in acquisition costs between the start and conclusion of the campaign.