After earning less than 8% of the vote in South Carolina’s republican primary, Jeb Bush and his exclamation point admitted defeat. This, despite the fact that Jeb had raised more money than the top two Republican frontrunners combined.
So how did the man with more money to spend on paid advertising than any other RNC candidate lose so badly?
I’d love to show you.
To do that, I’ve created a new (as far as I know) metric I’m calling “Percentage Point Buying Power”. It’s the cost that each candidate has paid for each percentage point of the vote they’ve earned the primaries.
So, for example, Donald Trump has raised $27.3 million so far, and earned a total of 92.1 percentage points (24.3% in IA + 35.3% in NH + 35.2% in SC). That means that for every $1-million he’s raised, he’s been able to buy 3.37 percentage points of the vote.
So, here’s how the Republican frontrunners rank in terms of Percentage Point Buying Power.
[table id=1 /]
Poor Jeb!. He’s dead last, and had to spend 24x what The Donald did for every percentage point he bought earned in the race. It’s like Jeb is spending Pesos, and Trump is spending Pounds. (Note: Kanye, please use this dope lyric before Taylor steals it and once again becomes famous off your coattails.)
So how did this happen?
Let’s add another column to our table to answer that question. This one is from the GDELT Project’s 2016 Campaign Television Tracker, which tracks the number of mentions of each candidate on television news channels over the past 100 days.
[table id=2 /]
How is The Donald getting so much more value for his advertising dollar than Jeb!? Because he’s getting over 5x the organic media coverage.
While Jeb was paying $157-million to put his message on television screens in primary states, Donald was getting his message out there for free. And let’s not pretend that an organic mention is worth the same as a paid mention.
Consumers are smart. They know that ads are there to get them to buy stuff, and they trust independent (or “independent) media sources much more than paid ads. If you place an ad in the New York Times saying, “My Widget is Great!”, you’re not going to have nearly the same effect as an article in the New York Times that says, “There’s this widget that everyone is talking about.” Even if the New York Times isn’t always complementary about your widget, and even if some of that news coverage is your widget’s beef with the Pope.
Turns out what’s true for widgets, is also true for presidential candidates.
So does this mean that paid advertising is useless, and PR is the only thing worth spending money on?
No, certainly not. PR is very valuable, no question. But paid advertising can be very effective as well. Jeb’s problem wasn’t just that he relied on paid advertising, it’s that the product he was selling (himself, as president) was flying in the face of consumer (voter) demand.
Whether you’re looking in the red or blue side of the aisle, the narrative of this primary season so far has been, “Americans are tired of the status quo.” It’s hard to imagine a more status quo candidate than Jeb, exclamation point or no.
Paid advertising works well when it builds on what people already want. Take a look at Google’s PPC ads as the perfect example. When you type in a search for “Emergency Plumber”, the first four results you’re going to see are ads for emergency plumbing services. It’s nearly the perfect paid advertising model. You know only people who need a plumber right now are searching for “Emergency Plumber,” and you can serve them ads that deliver exactly what they’re searching for.
If you can deliver ads that build on what people want, paid advertising can be incredibly effective. Jeb’s problem is that voters weren’t searching for, “The 3rd link in a presidential family dynasty”.