Welcome to FWIW, ACRONYM’s weekly newsletter breaking down digital strategy in the 2020 elections. Each week, we look at how campaigns are – or aren’t – leveraging smart digital strategies to drive narratives and reach voters. For what it’s worth, some of it might surprise you.
It would be tempting to call the recent Bob Woodward tapes of President Donald Trump admitting that he was lying to the public a “September surprise,” if it weren’t for the fact that we are fully aware that he pathologically lies to Americans about almost everything, all the time. We’ll take a look at how the news of the tapes played online, as well as campaigns’ efforts to already bank votes via vote-by-mail in this week’s FWIW.
2020, BY THE NUMBERS
Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has spent over $172.5 million on Facebook + Google advertising since the midterm elections. Joe Biden has spent $90.2 million advertising on those same platforms. Here’s how much each campaign spent just last week:
While both the Trump and Biden campaigns reduced their ad spending on Google last week, the Trump campaign’s spending on Facebook continues to climb. One of their recent fundraising ads to supporters claims (falsely) that he has “achieved peace in the Middle East” and states that he was nominated for the “NOBLE peace prize” which…to our knowledge, is not a real award.
Meanwhile, the Biden campaign is running an array of persuasion video ads on Google platforms, and despite Google’s (unreasonable) targeting restrictions on political ads , it appears Biden is targeting specific groups of voters by zip code with ads that may resonate best with them.
For instance, here’s an ad reaching majority African-American zip codes in Michigan, and one reaching majority rural areas in Florida:
FWIW, here are the rest of the top spenders on Facebook last week:
This week, the Biden campaign spent $51k Snapchat targeting 18-to-34-year-olds in NC, FL, PA, MI, and WI with 50-second clips from Joe Biden’s DNC acceptance speech. This is a very sizable investment on the platform considering its very cheap CPM – Snap’s ad library estimates this’ll reach over 10 million impressions through Sept. 15 – and the fact that most ad buys on the platform rarely exceed four digits.
Each week, we’re breaking down Facebook spending in key presidential battleground states, beginning with Arizona, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania – and now, Georgia. We’ll soon be expanding our tracking here to include even more states we think may be in play. Here’s how much the campaigns and major outside groups spent on ads focused on the presidential race from August 30 to September 5:
Preserve America PAC, a new pro-Trump PAC backed by GOP megadonors Sheldon Adelson and the founder of Home Depot, popped up as a top spender on FB ads targeting key states last week – and on Google, they spent $239k last week alone.
So far, they’ve mostly run anti-Biden attack ads and testimonials around their drumbeat “Joe Biden is a puppet of the rioting Left!” message on both platforms. The FB ads target middle-aged folks with a lean towards women, and the Google ads also target battleground states like NC, FL, GA, IA, and PA.
THE WEEKLY ROUND-UP
FYI: People are already voting
Ballots have already started going out in North Carolina, and they’ll start going out in state after state in the weeks to come. This fact has escaped neither presidential campaign, as both – even the Trump campaign – are asking folks to request their ballots now.
For example, one new ad from the Biden campaign appears to be trying to use Kamala Harris to get young people in swing states to request their ballot now instead of waiting until November to vote for her. It looks like they spent a little under $50k on these. And, as we covered last week’s FWIW, they put out a whole slew of ads targeting Arizona asking voters there to request their ballot now, some of which were en español.
Despite Trump’s constant rhetorical and legal challenges to voting by mail, his campaign must understand that turning out their voters via VBM is going to be critical if he wants to win re-election, because they’ve started spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Facebook ads targeting swing states urging folks to request their ballot. They’re also running some Google search ads along the same VBM/GOTV vein.
Finally, but certainly not least noteworthy, nonprofit group Voter Participation Center has also been spending major $$ on Facebook and Snapchat (they’re the biggest spender on the platform so far this year) to get people, especially younger folks and women, to request their ballot.
The group’s ads on Snapchat are quite simple, and they target 18-to-45 year olds in over a dozen states, including all sorts of battlegrounds like NV, PA, MN, and WI, and peripheral but somewhat elastic states like MO, KS, and KY. Their Facebook ads target a similar demographic, but seem to focus more on the battleground states.
Now that Trump is on tape all but admitting that he knowingly did nothing in the face of a historic pandemic, the Biden campaign and outside groups like PACRONYM, Lincoln Project, and Priorities USA moved extremely quickly to put that audio into organic content and digital ads.
This week’s episodes of Cheat Sheet for the Voting Booth – the new online web series from PACRONYM and Generator Collective featuring Broad City kween Ilana Glazer – featured two amazing guests. First was legendary comedian Eric Andre of Boca Raton, Florida, and drag superstar Alaska of Erie, Pennsylvania, who read DJT to filth. Because reading is what? FUNDAMENTAL.
BEFORE YOU GO…
That’s it for FWIW this week! Before you go, we have one more ask of you. As the general election heats up, it’s more important than ever for our friends and colleagues to stay in the know on what’s happening with the campaign. If you’re one of the over 14,000 people who enjoy reading FWIW each week, give us a follow on Twitter, and help get out the word by forwarding this email to two friends who care about democracy + the money that influences it.