A Super PAC aiming to defeat Democrats in favor of Republican candidates who support LGBT rights has been among the first political groups to use a YouTube ad-testing feature this election season. In surveys measuring ad recall and favorability towards messaging, American Unity PAC discovered that video ads attacking Ted Strickland, a Democrat hoping to unseat Republican Senator Rob Portman, appealed to both millennials and baby boomers, and helped inform future ad plans targeting women in the buckeye state.
"In Iran a woman's life is worth half her husband's," a voiceover says to begin an American Unity PAC ad aimed at Ohio voters between August 29 and September 11. "Christians persecuted. It's illegal to be gay."
It soon pivots to lambast Mr. Strickland for supporting the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran.
"Ted Strickland supported giving billions to that regime without concessions for human rights violations," it says. "When we had leverage, Ted Strickland didn't stand up for the vulnerable. That's why we can't trust him to stand up for us."
The group, which has received funding from Karl Rove Super PAC American Crossroads and deep-pocketed Republican donors, expects to spend between $5 and $6 million this election cycle in support of Republicans who have expressed support for various LGBT rights, running in congressional races in states including Nevada, Pennsylvania, Florida, New York and Colorado.
The group considers Mr. Portman, who reversed his previous anti-gay marriage stance after his son came out, "the most important ally that LGBT people have among Republicans" in Congress, said Tyler Deaton, senior advisor at American Unity PAC.
Mr. Strickland, a former governor of Ohio, is an advocate of gay marriage and other LGBT rights.
This is the first election season that a YouTube feature allowing advertisers to conduct "candidate lift" surveys of people after they viewed ads has been available.
The feature is free to use, but YouTube requires brand and political advertisers to serve ads to a statistically significant number of viewers in order to conduct the surveys.
The study ran from August 30 to September 1, gauging levels of recall and favorability among Ohioans exposed to the "Leverage" ad compared to a control group of people who were not shown the ad. American Unity aimed the ad at millennials, women aged 25 to 54, and what it called "moderate liberals."
In Ohio alone, American Unity PAC has spent $1 million, around 80% of it on digital media and nearly $700,000 of that on ads sold by Google and Google-owned YouTube. The group has worked with Google over the last nine months or so to develop its messaging and audience targets, along with voter analytics firm TargetPoint.
"We tested the hell out of this message in advance," said Mr. Deaton of "Leverage," which is similar to Iran deal-related messaging from the Portman campaign itself. The post-ad surveys revealed the anti-Strickland message appealed to millennials concerned with human rights issues as well as baby boomers who are national security voters. According to the results, an additional 28,300 people disfavored Mr. Strickland after viewing the ad.
"What was pleasantly surprising was how well this ad was performing with very left-leaning voter segments," said Mr. Deaton. "It's not just that you're A/B testing," he added, regarding the post-ad surveys. "It lets you ask a couple of questions and actually see how you're moving the dial."
The organization used the survey results to inform changes to future ads including some similar to the "Leverage" that were adjusted for Nevada and other states. Around two weeks after the anti-Strickland Iran deal ad campaign ran, American Unity PAC launched pro-Portman video ads with an equal pay message aimed at the same persuadable group of mostly female, younger, center-left voters targeted in the "Leverage" campaign.
Those ads highlight Mr. Portman's support of the Gender Advancement in Pay Act.