Opinion: Digital marketing is under-utilized in EA

In this post I will make the case that digital marketing is under-utilized by EA orgs as well as provide some example use cases.

My hope is that this post leads to EA orgs testing the below or similar strategies.

A large part of what Effective Altruism is trying to do is to change people’s beliefs and behaviors. Digital advertising is one tool for achieving this goal. The fact that corporations, governments, and nonprofits repeatedly invest millions of dollars in digital marketing programs is evidence of their efficacy.

A couple notes:

  • I work at Google/​YouTube helping large advertisers run Google and YouTube Ads. For that reason this post does not touch on Facebook/​Instagram//​Twitter/​TikTok, but I am sure there are large opportunities there as well.

  • This post is focused on paid advertising.

  • Cost estimates are based on previous experience and industry benchmarks, but costs vary based on the geography, season, tactic etc.

  • If you plan on running any of the strategies described below, please reach out to me so we can coordinate with other charities that are planning on running similar strategies.

  • If your EA org would like to explore running a digital marketing campaign please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at j.s.winchell@gmail.com.

Search Ads

Every year, millions of people ask Google questions related to charity, poverty, animal welfare, AI safety, etc. If we can direct those people to EA websites, they will get EA answers to their questions.

Google gives registered charities $10K/​month in free advertising credits. Of a sample of ~10 EA charities, only one was fully using this Google Ads Grant.

With a little extra knowledge, spending the Google Ads Grant becomes much easier than described in previous posts (1, 2).

If you work at an EA org and would like help spending your full Google Ads Grant please fill out this survey.

Image/​display Ads

If your organization has a target audience and you know of websites that audience visits, display ads could be a very cost-effective way for your charity to achieve its goals.

Example use case: Founders Pledge wants to spread the word about their pledge. They identify three websites frequented by founders and advertise on those websites. A standard benchmark for an image/​display ad is $2 per 1,000 impressions (an impression is when an ad is served). This strategy would break even at one pledge per 1,000,000,000 impressions served. (Assumes advertising cost of $2 per 1,000 impressions and an average pledge size of $2M, which is based on ~$3B pledged and ~1,500 pledgers).

While the optimal number of impressions served will be much less than 1,000,000,000, it is very likely higher than 0.

In addition to sending founders to the Founders Pledge website, this tactic would also increase awareness of the pledge thereby making it easier for their outreach team to sign on new members.

Video Ads

YouTube Ads are a powerful and inexpensive way to deliver visual and audio messages to targeted audiences.

You can target users using any combination of the following:

  • Geography (radius targeting, zip/​postal code, state)

  • Household income (top 10%, 11-20%, etc.)

  • Search history on Google and YouTube (e.g. users that searched for “best charity” or “factory farming” in the last 30 days)

  • Types of websites visited (e.g. users that have visited the websites of large nonprofits)

  • YouTube channels being watched at the time the impression serves (contextual targeting)

  • Demographics (age, gender)

Example use cases:

  • Org A wants to boost enrollment in EA University groups. They have a member student record a simple 6 second selfie video inviting students to the group. They target 18-24 year-olds within a 10 mile radius of their target universities. They could expect to pay ~$0.01 per person reached.

  • Org B wants their charity to be the first charity that comes to people’s minds come Giving Tuesday. They target the top 5 US zip codes by income and layer on a Household Income (top 10%) audience to ensure they are reaching high net worth individuals. They could expect to pay ~$0.01 per person if they keep their ads under 6 seconds, which amounts to ~$400 to target everyone in the top 5 US zip codes by wealth. (This is not a typo, it’s just insanely cheap!)

  • Org C thinks their message would resonate with “analytical people.” They compile a list of websites that “analytical people” visit and then show their YouTube ads to people who visit those types of sites.

  • Org D is running a corporate campaign to end cages for egg-laying hens. They recently had a celebrity endorse their campaign. They want to capitalize on this endorsement and run an ad featuring the celebrity that targets the relevant geography.

  • Org E wants to promote The Precipice. It distills the message down to between 15 seconds and 5 minutes and targets users within 10 miles of prestigious universities who frequent technology or science websites.

  • Org F wants to advocate for increased R+D funding for cellular agriculture ahead of a vote in the state legislature and they know the vote will come down to two politicians. They advertise in just the two districts that those politicians represent, asking voters to call their representative.

  • Org G wants to advocate for fair labelling laws for plant-based meat ahead of a vote in the state legislature. They suspect libertarians and environmentalists support their cause so they develop libertarian messaging to show to readers of libertarian media and environmental messaging to show to readers of environmentalist media.

  • Org H wants to elect an EA to the state legislature. They fund professional advertising for the candidate’s race.

Closing thoughts

The financial cost of testing these programs is small and the potential payoff is large. If you’re interested in running a test please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Thank you in advance for your thoughts and feedback.