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Communities United for Bass

Electing Karen Bass

We ran a digital advertising campaign that overcame a 10-to-1 spending disadvantage to elect the first female mayor of LA.


Consolidate support to get Karen Bass one of the top two positions in a crowded primary, and then counter Rick Caruso’s $100 million in spending to win the general.


A crowded primary field and a self-funding billionaire meant that the independent expenditure operation supporting Karen Bass’ historic run for mayor of LA needed to be exceptionally efficient and strategic with comparatively limited funds.
Collage of Karen Bass and Rick Caruso

Targeting Approach

Polling showed that the audiences most likely to shift toward supporting Karen Bass were voters under 45, particularly women, and Latinos. Los Angeles is the largest media market in the country, so with a 7-figure budget that paled in comparison to Caruso’s, we had to determine how to reach our target audiences with the highest efficiency possible.  We used TargetSmart to model potential support, identify key demographics, and find target-rich zip codes. We then built a waterfall approach to our targeting, in which we worked to max out our reach to each level before moving onto the next. The waterfall of audiences were:

Level 1 priority: Voter file matches to our target audiences

Level 2 priority: Third-party data matching our target audiences over zip codes with high density of our targets

Level 3 priority: Zip codes with the highest densities of our target audiences without data match

This approach allowed us to reach our most valuable audiences without worrying about scale. In both the primary and the general, the zip codes in which our ads delivered the most impressions map well onto the primary election vote tallies.

In the maps below, darker areas represent zip codes with higher concentrations of our target audiences and greater impression share. Inset maps indicate which areas were carried by Bass (purple) and Caruso (green).

Map of Primary Mayoral Election Results in LA
Map of General Mayoral Election Results in LA
Geographical data does not include Facebook

Creative Approach

Introducing Karen Bass. Heading into the primary, polling showed that the messages that most effectively consolidated support for Bass among movable audiences were positive biographical overviews of Karen Bass’ commitment to Los Angeles. Many of our targets simply weren’t familiar with her lifelong public service. We converted the critical pieces of that message into a high-energy digital-first 15-second approach, and added bilingual subtitles to ensure we were effectively reaching our Latino audience, whatever their language preference.
Making the case against Rick Caruso. As Caruso’s outsized spending began to impact the race and looked likely to continue to grow, we knew that we needed to define him early in voters’ minds to inoculate them against the onslaught of positive media they’d be exposed to. Caruso’s longtime Republican party registration—and his record of donating to anti-choice Republican politicians—became particularly salient as the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs decision. We ran a negative ad on his anti-choice record across platforms during the primary.
We then reinforced that message by boosting a Politico article on Caruso’s anti-choice donations into our audiences’ Facebook news feeds. Once the field narrowed to two candidates, our objective was to solidify opposition to Caruso by hammering home his history as an anti-choice Republican. We repackaged that narrative into a fresh, energetic, video driven by a catchy song to capture attention. It worked, driving an average completion rate of 81% and capturing over 15.5 million impressions.
Video editing by Dakoit
Reaching Spanish speakers. Because reaching Latinos was such a critical part of our strategy, we sought opportunities to run Spanish-language content where we knew those with Spanish fluency would be viewing. On YouTube, we ran English and Spanish ads. We also invested in a direct buy with Univision.
Collage of English & Spanish ads for Karen Bass
Getting the most out of each platform. As we approached the general election, we were seeing strong completion rates for our video creative on Facebook compared to platform benchmarks. But when the LA Times endorsed Bass, we decided to make the most of our limited budget by shifting our focus on Facebook to boosting the endorsement article, leaving video creative to platforms that naturally facilitate higher completion rates. Finally, we extended the impact of our campaign through LA Times takeovers in both the primary and general election.
Image of desktop with ads for Karen Bass


Despite Rick Caruso’s unprecedented $100 million in spending, Karen Bass emerged victorious, besting Caruso by over 46,000 votes in the primary and winning the general with 54.8% of the vote to Caruso’s 45.2%.

Our optimizations made the most of an underdog budget. Our ads reached over 4 million Angelenos with over 78 million impressions. In both the primary and the general, our team’s optimizations found efficiencies and resulted in the delivery of at least 33% more impressions than projected.

Our targeting strategy successfully reached the people we knew we could shift. Over 85% of impressions in the general election were delivered to voters under 45, and about 59% to women. More than half of our impressions were delivered to Latinos.

Our creative captured attention. Across platforms, we regularly saw completion rates of over 80%, meaning that viewers were watching our videos all the way through more often than not.

Karen Bass - first female mayor of LA

This campaign was a 2023 Reed Award finalist for Best Use of Online Targeting for Independent Expenditure Campaign.

Logo: 2023 Reed Awards Finalist