Political Campaigns Don’t Work On Twitter. Digital Ad Execs Explain Why

Amrita Khalid
Amrita Khalid is a tech journalist based in Los Angeles, and has written for Quartz, The Daily Dot, Engadget, Inc. Magazine and number of other publications. She got her start in Washington, D.C., covering Congress for CQ-Roll Call. You can send tips or pitches to amrita@dot.la or reach out to her on Twitter at @askhalid.
Political Campaigns Don’t Work On Twitter. Digital Ad Execs Explain Why

Twitter kicked off the New Year by announcing it would relax a controversial ban on political ads and other promotions pushing specific causes. The move is only the latest effort by CEO Elon Musk to boost the platform’s struggling ad business — which took a hit last year after a number of advertisers left due to the chief’s volatile statements on the platform. Some companies have since returned.

But digital agencies who have worked on LA-based advocacy and political campaigns don’t think clients will make Twitter a major part of their ad strategy. Ad execs say the platform’s lack of specific microtargeting tools — along with the fact that it has a much smaller user base than ad giants Meta and Google — makes it less attractive than its competitors. Not to mention that since the 2019 ban went into effect, many clients have pivoted to other new ways of reaching voters, such as paying influencers on TikTok or ads on streaming platforms.

“Twitter has always been more of a niche product, very well suited to reaching people who are very engaged in the process and following the news closely,” said Jamie Patton, the director of digital agency Uplift — which counts the congressional campaign for Rep. Katie Porter (CA-45) as one of its clients, along with candidates for LA City Council and LA City Attorney.

In other words, Twitter users aren’t exactly the general public — a 2019 Pew poll found that Twitter’s audience is younger, more educated, higher income and more likely to identify with Democrats than the nation overall. Such an uneven sampling is why Twitter hype doesn’t always translate to real world hype. And why the platform can be a poor predictor of box office success, elections and the stock market.

“Twitter requires a specific and unique marketing approach to succeed,” said Erik Rose, a partner at public affairs agency EKA. “You can’t approach it the way you would your Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube marketing. And also can’t simply cross-promote your existing content.”

According to Patton, Twitter ads have primarily been effective in cases where a campaign needs access to a niche audience. “We ran political ads on the platform for years, more often ‘advocacy’ content designed to reach a more engaged audience, with very good results,” said Patton.

But such rough targeting paled in comparison to those offered by Google and Meta-owned platforms, which include Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp and Messenger. Patton says Twitter’s targeting capabilities are “pretty limited” for someone who wants to target a broad demographic. Which is to say, if your goal is to appeal to a swath of persuadable voters, you’re probably not going to spend your ad dollars on Twitter.

If Twitter does get the formula right—Patton said she’d like to see the company offer more one-on-one targeting, release more data on audience reach and provide more transparency on ad frequency—political campaigns could help boost its sinking ad revenue. According to digital ad analytics firm AdImpact, opponents and advocates of California’s sports betting ballot initiative Proposition 27 spent a combined $21.5 million on Facebook and Google ads in 2022. In fact, the initiative had the second largest political digital ad spend of 2022, just behind Georgia’s Senate campaigns. While such a campaign was only a drop in the bucket for Twitter’s competitors (Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said political ads account for less than one percent of Facebook’s revenue), it is revenue that Twitter can’t afford to lose.

That said, Twitter will have an even a tougher time breaking through, considering Apple’s 2021 privacy changes that allow iPhone users to opt out of tracking. Twitter, along with Meta, Snap and Pinterest have lost billions in market value since the change went to effect. Meanwhile, digital ads on TikTok, Amazon, streaming platforms and retail companies like Etsy and Walmart are using new approaches to ads (such as relying on purchasing history) and shaving away Facebook and Google’s share of the online ad business.

Still, Rose said he doesn’t think Twitter should try to imitate its competitors. He plans on advising his clients to focus on what they want from Twitter: It could merely serve as a less serious version of the TV and radio ad space, where campaigns can have fun and experiment with pop culture.

“Every platform can’t be everything to everyone,” Rose added. And while Twitter’s 259.4 million active users certainly aren’t everyone – its undeniably large role in public discourse means the political sphere can’t ignore it. But it’s unlikely that attention will translate to more money for Twitter considering posting is still free.


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Astrolab's New SpaceX-backed Rover Could Change Space Exploration Forever

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
Astrolab's New SpaceX-backed Rover Could Change Space Exploration Forever
Photo by Samson Amore

Local Los Angeles-area startup Astrolab Inc. has designed a new lunar vehicle called FLEX, short for Flexible Logistics and Exploration Rover. About the size of a Jeep Wrangler, FLEX is designed to move cargo around the surface of the moon on assignment. It’s a bit larger than NASA’s Mars rovers, like Perseverance, but as it’s designed for transport and mobility rather than precision measurement, it can travel much faster, at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour across the lunar surface.

In the short-term, this “cargo” would be mostly scientific equipment, but down the road, it’s possible that FLEX could also contribute to larger-scale projects, such as building out a “lunar infrastructure.” Astrolab founder Jaret Matthews told The New York Times that his goal, ultimately, would be to serve as a kind of “UPS for the moon,” providing a “local distribution solution” once private companies had figured out the logistical challenge of getting their products to the lunar surface in the first place.

To that point, Astrolab plans to get FLEX itself on to the moon with help from SpaceX. Specifically, the company’s new giant spacecraft, Starship, which will reportedly be ready for uncrewed lunar cargo missions as soon as 2026. Matthews – an engineer by trade, and a veteran of both SpaceX and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory – assured the Times that FLEX will be part of the very first SpaceX commercial cargo flight to the moon. For their part, SpaceX has not yet made any specific announcements about when this might actually be happening, and didn't respond to requests for comment.

Starship is the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, surpassing even NASA’s own Saturn V and Space Launch System. It’s unconventional in a few other ways as well. Starship is constructed from stainless steel, the first time this particular metal has been used in a space rocket since the 1950s. Steel is heavy, so launching a steel rocket into orbit requires more fuel than alternate metals such as aluminum or titanium. Nonetheless, SpaceX prefers steel as it apparently works better in extreme temperature conditions, such as during launch and atmospheric re-entry. The use of stainless steel also gives Starship a distinct, rather stylish silver appearance.

SpaceX’s plans for the Starship megarocket lie not just in its massive size but reusability. Being able to launch heavy payloads into orbit and beyond without having to construct an enormous new rocket each time significantly lowers costs, and gives SpaceX a potential leg-up in terms of transporting satellites and spacecraft, along with cargo and even passengers on space tourism getaways.

The vehicle has flown a few times before, but only low-powered versions on quick roughly 6-mile trips above the Earth’s surface. SpaceX had hoped to launch some early orbital tests in 2022 but faced numerous delays. The new goal – pending FAA approval – is to get orbital tests going in late April, which founder and CEO Elon Musk predicts have about a 50% chance of success. (Yes, this could potentially include one of Musk’s personal favorite dates in the annual calendar: 4/20.)

Once FLEX arrives, it will actually rank among the first-ever American-made rovers to hit the lunar surface. Though NASA previously sent a famed “moon buggy” up there which astronauts used during the Apollo 15, 16, and 17 missions, and both the Soviet Union and China have deployed robotic rovers, the US has previously preferred to do its moon exploration in person. That’s all about to change, though, with not only FLEX’s debut, but NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER. This rover, about the size of a golf cart, will explore the area around the Moon’s South Pole looking for water ice ahead of the arrival of the Artemis Program – and human astronauts – in 2025.

Astrolab isn’t the only local company hoping to leverage SpaceX’s Starship plans for its own purposes. K2 Space, founded by brothers Karan and Neel Kunjur, are developing large-scale “satellite buses,” physical structures that can move and power entire spacecraft, which are about as large as any objects humans have ever attempted to blast into space. While previous efforts to innovate space travel on the commercial side have focused on making vehicles smaller, and thus cheaper to launch, K2 views the progress of SpaceX as a sea change, indicating that – one day soon – manufacturers will have a variety of “launch providers” for getting their products on to the moon and beyond.

Meet the Creator Economy’s Version of LinkedIn

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

Meet the Creator Economy’s Version of LinkedIn

This is the web version of dot.LA’s daily newsletter. Sign up to get the latest news on Southern California’s tech, startup and venture capital scene.

LinkedIn hasn’t caught on with Gen Z—in fact, 96% rarely use their existing account.

Considering 25% of young people want to be full-time content creators and most influencers aren’t active on LinkedIn, traditional networking sites aren’t likely to meet these needs.

Enter CreatorLand.

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This Week in ‘Raises’: Total Network Services Gains $9M, Autio Secures $5.9M

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

This Week in ‘Raises’: Total Network Services Gains $9M, Autio Secures $5.9M
This Week in ‘Raises’:

It has been a slow week in funding, but a local decentralized computing network managed to land $9 million to accelerate deployment of its new product called Universal Communication Identifier (UCID™). Another local company that secured capital included Kevin Costner’s location-based audio storytelling platform and the funding will go toward expanding the app’s content library and expanding into additional regions in the United States.

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