The Social Observer

The Social Media Marketing Blog by SNHU Students

What Non-Profits Can Learn From Political Ads

This year’s mid-term election is arguably one of the most advertised, debated, and conflicting in recent history. The ads used this election season represent a shift away from bashing candidates (although that is still a tactic), and more toward pulling on the emotions of the viewer/voter. More than 3.5 million ads have been shown already in the midterm election, and, according to Pogkas and Ingold (2018), “If all these ads seem like more than you’d see in a typical midterm campaign, it’s because they are. The 3.5 million campaign ads that have aired so far this year (which includes ads that don’t get coded by Kantar Media/CMAG as having a particular issue mentioned) is almost one million more than aired during the 2014 midterms …”

This year is different than years past, in that candidates are using more personal stories and engaging, emotional appeals to persuade voters. For example, MJ Hegar, who is running for a Congressional seat for the state of Texas, uses the metaphor of a door to tell her story and convince voters. She starts with the cameras inside her home, her family at dinner, with the door of an Air Force plane behind her. She uses that to segue into her career in the armed forces, then talks about her abusive father — who threw her mother through a glass door. The entire feel of her message is to give viewers (and voters) a look inside her life — using deeply personal anecdotes — and the relatable story of “doors.”

Another example of great storytelling by political candidates includes Ron DeSantis, who is running for a gubernatorial seat in Florida, uses his wife to tell the story of “what a great dad he is,” in a comical effort to assuage voters’ concerns that DeSantis was extremely pro-Trump. Although his views may be polarizing, the storytelling angle, with the DeSantis’ two cute kids, grasps viewers on both sides of the aisle.

Non-profits can utilize these very tactics in their own marketing initiatives, as personal stories do more than bashing candidates could ever do. While trying to persuade viewers to give, donate, or support a cause, using personal, emotional stories is the key.

What non-profits should do with their marketing initiatives:

Do tell stories to increase engagement.
Do focus more on shared experiences over information-rich content.
Do use authentic, real people in your ad copy and other content.
Do create emotional appeals throughout the campaign.

What they shouldn’t do:

Do not stretch the truth or outright lie.
Do not attack others.
Do not use cheesy tactics.
Do not focus on stats over stories.

A negative example of a 2018 political ad that non-profits should take pointers from includes that of Dr. Trudy Wade, who uses her dog to appeal to voters. While that may have worked as an emotional appeal, the way in which she uses the dog is so cheesy that it turns viewers off. Well, see for yourself.

So, how should non-profits leverage the — many times, limited — resources that they have to tell stories and increase engagement?

Find people (volunteers, people on your staff) who have an engaging story to tell, who would be willing to do so on camera.
Utilize personal and/or relatable spaces (like homes, parks, restaurants or coffee shops) to shoot clear, professional video.
Put together short, but engaging, videos and other content (like graphics) to post on social media and other digital spaces.
The key is quality over quantity — a long video is not necessarily the goal, but the engaging, story-telling quality of the video or other content is.

Political ads can be SO annoying. But, if you use a personal approach, you can reach more people than you would any other way.


Pogkas, D. And Ingold, D. (2018). What the 2018 Campaign Looks Like in Your Hometown. Bloomberg. Retrieved from:

Category: Social Media Marketing 201