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.
Earlier this week, reporters and campaign staffers alike were anxiously awaiting the release of each presidential campaign’s Q2 FEC filings – detailed reports that show how much the campaigns have raised and spent this quarter. The filings show which vendors the candidates have paid and offer a glimpse into their strategy. As there’s been a lot of talk in the past several weeks about campaigns bringing aspects of their digital advertising and fundraising programs “in-house,” (🏼) we took a look at the filings to see who may be doing just that.
2020 by the numbers
Donald Trump’s campaign has spent over $14.2 million on Facebook and Google advertising since the mid-terms. This week, in coordination with the launch of “Women for Trump”, his campaign ran pink-themed, inspirational video ads on Facebook that resembled more of a Rachel Ray promo than a campaign announcement. 🤷🏼♀️Here’s his week over week spending breakdown, you can view these charts and more at our FWIW spending dashboard:
After launching his campaign for President on July 9, Tom Steyer quickly became the biggest Democratic spender on Facebook and Google last week – and his campaign is showing no signs of slowing down. 🤑 Even before his campaign announcement, his various political organizations had already spent over $4.8 million through his personal Facebook page in the past year. Since the launch, many of his ads have been focused on taking down Trump, money in politics, and climate change:
Candidate Mike Gravel notably outspent usually heavy-spending candidates like Beto O’Rourke and Andrew Yang online last week. That’s likely because the teenagers who run his campaign were running dozens of ads attempting to earn enough small dollar donors to make July’s debate stage. Amazingly, last Friday the campaign announced they had successfully reached the 65,000 donor threshold. That said, you won’t see the former Senator from Alaska in the next debate, as he failed to meet the minimum polling requirements.
And here are the top political spenders on Facebook and Google from July 6 – July 12:
Last week we wrote about the enormous spending online that Democratic U.S. Senate hopefuls are using to launch their bids to unseat GOP incumbents. Since then, Kentucky Senate challenger Amy McGrath has spent over $275,000 on Google, outspending the Trump campaign and every candidate for president with video ads promoting her launch video:
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Deep Dive: Digital is in the house
On Monday afternoon, much-anticipated Q2 FEC filings dropped- detailed reports that show how much the campaigns have spent and raised this quarter. The filings offer a glimpse into campaigns’ respect strategies and expenditures to date and we sunk our teeth right in. Here’s what we uncovered.
To outsource, or not to outsource? 🤔
There’s an ongoing debate as to which aspects of a campaign’s digital programs should be performed by campaign staff in HQ, and which roles should be outsourced to mostly DC-based consulting firms. POLITICO recently reported that Elizabeth Warren’s team is attempting to change the campaign playbook by bringing the majority of their digital ad buying and online marketing in-house. In May, the Gillibrand campaign reportedly told the New York Times that after bringing some of their digital advertising program in house, they saw an increase in ROI.
FWIW, bringing digital ad-buying in-house is something we’ve been advocating for a while and we’re pretty stoked the model is gaining momentum. 🥰Eric Wilson at Learn, Test, Optimize also took a look this week at which parts of campaign digital programs can and should be moved in-house.
A way to see whether a campaign is buying their digital ads in-house is by seeing which candidates have made direct payments to some of the largest advertising platforms – Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Snap. When a campaign hires consultants to buy their ads, those ad expenses are typically included in the FEC report under the firm’s line item instead. A disclaimer here: digital consulting firms, particularly the smaller ones, come in many shapes and sizes, and every candidate reports their functions differently to the FEC.
That said, here’s a breakdown of how much each candidate has paid consulting firms for digital advertising, marketing, and online fundraising from April 1 to June 30, vs. how much the campaigns have paid directly to the major online platforms during the same time period.
The campaigns above have begun to forego consultants and have had staff directly purchase ads from Facebook, Google, Twitter. Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang both have spent heavily buying directly from the platforms, and both appear to be the only candidates who’ve purchased advertising directly from Snapchat – an effective platform for gettin’ that #youthvote. 🤳 Get with it, people!
Pete Buttigieg’s campaign has almost exclusively spent their digital budget on in-house staff and direct ad buys – as their only listed digital consulting expenditures were to Hyperakt, a creative firm that is responsible for the campaign’s very-cool DIY branding toolkit.
This is an unprecedented amount of direct buying from the campaigns. Historically, digital ad buying has always been done by consultants, and this shift is a big differentiator in how the Democratic campaigns allocate their resources and view their digital strategy. 🤔We are so here for it
On the other hand, here are the campaigns who opted to use consulting firms instead for digital ad buying:
The campaigns above are relying on mostly DC-based strategists who have run digital ad programs for multiple campaigns – and haven’t purchased any ads directly from the platforms. We should note there’s sometimes a blurry line between outsourced consultants and in-house talent – as some firms that exclusively work for presidential campaigns are led by senior staff who are closely integrated into campaign HQ.
The Warren, Yang, Buttigieg, and Gillibrand campaigns have made the calculation that their in-house teams can more effectively run digital advertising than outside consultants. It may be difficult for campaigns to find expert digital talent, but in-house ad buying can save the candidates’ money on fees and commission, as well as provide a higher ROI. After all, campaign staffers who work in HQ and live and breath their candidate’s message each day could be more effective strategists than others who live outside the campaign.
One more thing… 🤳
That’s all for this week. But before you go, we wanted to let you know that our team is hiring! Help us find the best and brightest at the intersection of politics, advertising, tech, and media here