Welcome to FWIW, ACRONYM’s weekly newsletter breaking down digital strategy and investments across the political spectrum. Each week, we look at how campaigns are – or aren’t – leveraging smart digital strategies to drive narratives and win elections.
For what it’s worth, some of it might surprise you.
For the 20 candidates who qualified, this week’s debates presented one of the biggest opportunities of the year to introduce themselves to millions of potential primary voters (24 million people tuned in on night one alone!). While the candidates themselves were sweating it on stage, their campaign teams were stuck behind computer screens, trying to seize every clip and viral moment of the debate for online fundraising and maximizing supporter engagement. So who won the digital debate this week? We take a look in this week’s FWIW.
2020 by the numbers
Donald Trump’s campaign spent nearly $1 million on Facebook and Google advertising alone last week. He invested significantly around his campaign launch, began running hundreds of ads targeting Latinos in swing states, and on Wednesday, he purchased one of the most expensive single ad buys online (which will be counted in Google’s transparency report next week).
Democrats be aware: Trump’s campaign has repeatedly shown that they can raise the money, and now they’re showing they’re willing to spend it heavily online in a sustained way – 18 months out from Election Day. You can see all this data and more on our FWIW dashboard here.
Amy Klobuchar’s campaign was the top Democratic spender on Facebook ads this week. In addition to fundraising asks, many of her ads were acquisition-focused, promoting supporter surveys around issues like climate change and education policy. The last time we saw her top this list was during the last end of quarter fundraising deadline in March.
Unlike most campaigns that spend big online in sporadic bursts, Elizabeth Warren’s campaign has spent steadily week after week and remains the top Democratic spender online. When it comes to digital advertising, her campaign clearly…has a plan…and they’re sticking to it.
FWIW, here are the top political spenders on Facebook + Google from June 16 – 23:
Special shout out to our friends at Planned Parenthood, who were the largest political spender on Google platforms last week, running dozens of video ads around their “ProtectX” campaign.
Deep Dive: The Digital Debate, Part 2 🤯
Millions of potential Democratic primary voters tuned in the past two nights to hear from 20 candidates on a debate stage for the first time. Even though the candidates only had a few minutes of speaking time each, their campaigns attempted to maximize their appearance by blasting out zingers, plans, fundraising appeals, and video clips online before, during, and after the debate. Here’s some of our key takeaways as to who played the digital game best (and worst) this week:
“I just stepped off stage…”
Presidential debates aren’t always about unexpected, breakout moments. With many campaigns relying on consulting firms to run their email programs, their tactics can sometimes be pretty…well…predictable. The award for the least creative digital campaign tactic goes to…these campaigns. Hopefully these tried and true debate email subject lines helped them raise a few bucks though, and we are big fans of the post-debate stage selfie videos we also saw from a number of the candidates!
On Wednesday night, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro had a mini-moment. As the pundits were declaring him one of the breakout stars from his debate, he took advantage of his performance, immediately running Facebook ads addressing supporters directly, claiming a surge in online donations, and selling merch featuring one of his debate catchphrases.
Kamala was ready
The biggest breakout moment of both nights was when Kamala Harris went toe-to-toe with Joe Biden on desegregation. She landed some serious blows on the former VP, and drew on a story of her personal experience as a young girl that became a viral video clip. Her campaign team seemed *very* ready for the moment, sharing well-designed graphics on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and quickly pushing out related t-shirts with her quote from the stage, “That little girl was me,” for sale. She also (wisely) was the only candidate to plug her website in her closing remarks.
More than many of the candidates on Wednesday night’s stage, Tulsi Gabbard had to explain some past positions on issues like LGBTQ rights. Her campaign used Facebook ads immediately after her debate performance to highlight clips from the event and explain her positions directly.
And on another note, her sister even took over the campaign’s Twitter account to stir up some drama with Elizabeth Warren:
“Pass the Torch”
Candidates with lower name recognition were also primed and prepared to blast out on-stage moments online. Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson were some of the only candidates running debate-specific ads during the first half of the debate, with Yang simply highlighting the fact that he made it to the stage, and Williamson promoting her top zingers almost as soon as they came out of her mouth. We shouldn’t be surprised though – as our CEO Tara McGowan put it on Twitter, candidates like Williamson and Yang didn’t earn a place on that stage just by running TV ads alone. 🏻
After Eric Swalwell tore into Joe Biden with his “pass the torch” remark, his campaign had a #PassTheTorch graphic designed and ready for sharing on social media- that may or may not have been designed in real time 🤷🏻♀️. He also promoted some t-shirts with the phrase. If you ever see anyone wearing one of those, ask them if it was the Facebook ads that converted them!
“Hey, r u watching this rn?”
Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Kirsten Gillibrand’s campaigns sent us a bunch of text messages during the debates, both for fundraising (Biden), and for sharing detailed fact checks and links to their policy proposals (Gillibrand, Warren). As supporters’ Twitter and Facebook feeds get increasingly crowded with hot takes and ads, strong texting programs have the potential to help campaigns break through the noise.
BONUS: Memeable Marianne 🤣…
While every candidate was surely looking to land a ‘memeable’ moment online from the stage to capitalize on beyond the debate, the contender we think won the meme prize maybe didn’t have this kind of reaction in mind… And such is the unpredictability of the socials and what sparks joy – and engagement for audiences. Take a look at a small sample of the ripple effect Marianne Williamson’s presence on stage had below and while many of these made us LOL, we hope it gave her campaign the kind of bump it was hoping for
One more thing… 🤳
That’s all for this week.
Since next Thursday is Independence Day, we’re taking the week off! You can still check out our Twitter feed for the latest digital ad research, and we’ll be sure to update our cumulative spending numbers on the FWIW Dashboard.
But before you go, we want to make one ask of you – if you love FWIW, follow us on Twitter. There you’ll find additional insights as we dig through research throughout the week.