With the goal of engaging women aged 30 to 55 and armed with research that showed this demographic spent a significant amount of time playing mobile games, the Biden campaign for president developed a mobile game called "Ridin' with Biden." It was pushed to key targets via playable ads on existing mobile games and leveraged to send users to IWillVote.com, a website where they could learn more about how and when to vote.
Joe Biden's 2020 presidential election campaign took place during a crucial moment in modern history. The challenges were evident from a glance — he faced an incumbent opponent with a passionate base, whose team used deceptive advertising tactics to sway public opinion. What's more, the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic eliminated most opportunities for traditional in-person campaign events. Despite these challenges, the Biden campaign relied on a message of unity, decency, and good character.
Former Vice President Biden's objectives for his presidential run were simple: to drive awareness and affinity for his candidacy while simultaneously increasing turnout for the 2020 general election. These efforts required the Biden campaign to develop several new strategies for reaching voters beyond mainstream digital channels on a national level. Ideally, such initiatives would direct voters to IWillVote.com, a website that educated audiences on how and where to vote ahead of Election Day.
The Biden campaign decided that its primary marketing strategy would be to reach voters at home — tapping into the many hours spent in front of smartphones during the pandemic. Its key audience was women aged 30 to 55, whom market research suggested spent a significant amount of time playing mobile games.
The campaign decided that playable ads represented the best opportunity to break into mobile gaming verticals. The interactive elements of this type of ad unit would help Biden's messaging stand apart from more traditional political advertisements while tapping into the positive sentiments associated with gaming. Ad creative would encourage audiences to click-through to visit IWillVote.com while meeting the expectations of gaming audiences — specifically, that it was light-hearted and avoided heavy-handed policy discourse.
Joe Biden became the official Democratic party nominee in August 2020, but he still faced significant obstacles in the general election. His campaign and marketing strategies needed to counter President Trump's incumbency advantage and establish gains on platforms like Facebook. Meanwhile, thanks to COVID-19, more voters planned to vote early via mail, rather than casting in-person ballots. These voters needed critical information to help them through the vote-by-mail process.
Overall Campaign Execution:
To kick things off, Biden campaign stakeholders met with the Interplay Studio, an in-house design team dedicated to delivering best-in-class, interactive ad creative. That experience informed its vision for how to approach the mobile gaming space. The team requested gamified ad concepts that would match the expected user experience and drive conversions.
Several playable ad concepts were brainstormed for the Biden campaign, which eventually chose the "Ridin' with Biden" concept — a virtual experience in which users drive Biden's beloved Corvette past obstacles to reach the White House. The advertisement opened with a gamified 8-bit video that introduced the concept in a fun and engaging style. The campaign team was particularly pleased with how the ad emphasized "Bidenisms" — various Biden sayings and campaign messages such as "The race is on for the soul of our nation."
Brand safety is a vital consideration for any political campaign. To that end, the campaign prepared a custom, brand-safe app allow list, while also verifying that app publishers on this list were willing to accept political ads before the campaign launched. The interactive end card rendered after the video completion, adding value outside of campaign pricing and increasing the format's impact. The low financial risk made the decision to branch out into untested channels easy for the Biden campaign.
Using playable advertisements in mobile games to reach voters in swing states was undoubtedly uncharted territory. Perhaps the closest existing benchmark was click-through rates for mobile gaming ads overall, which typically fall in the range of 2 to 3 percent. Ridin' with Biden launched in mid-October, targeting users across swing states like Arizona, Colorado, and Georgia. During the same period, the campaign managed other political ads across 75 vendors through standard channels. All initiatives had the same end goal of driving traffic to IWillVote.com.
During the eight weeks leading up to the 2020 election, the mobile gaming channel contributed to a significant volume of site traffic at a surprisingly low cost. Ridin' with Biden drove a $0.66 cost-per-click, five times lower than the $3.20 achieved with similar activations on more traditional channels.
By the campaign's end, Ridin' with Biden collected over 12 million completed views and 4 million ad engagements, along with a 35 percent engagement rate and a record-breaking click-through rate that was nine times higher than the goal. Also, thanks to a cost-per-completed view pricing model, the Biden campaign guaranteed that every voter it paid to reach saw the campaign message rather than scrolling by — a far more effective approach than CPM models.
Mobile gaming is not a traditional venue for political advertising, but the playable ad units deployed by the Biden campaign were innovative and successful. The interactive elements of Ridin' with Biden impressed the campaign leadership, all of whom were thrilled to break new ground.