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.
From Facebook + Google spend data, to online fundraising, email strategy, messaging, creative, and more, FWIW takes a look at how campaigns are changing – and what that means for 2020 and beyond.
For what it’s worth, some of it might surprise you.
Each week, we dig into how the 2020 presidential candidates, including Donald Trump, are attempting to reach voters and drive messages online and offline. But who else is spending money to create content that shapes public perceptions and drives messaging in support of Trump and his agenda? What types of content are being pushed out to key demographics of voters, and who’s behind it? We take a look in this week’s FWIW.
2020 by the numbers
Donald Trump’s campaign digital spending decreased slightly over the past week, and he’s now spent over $8.7 million on Google and Facebook cumulatively since the midterms. You can see all these charts and how they change over time at our FWIW Digital Dashboard.
Joe Biden continued his significant investment in Facebook and Google last week, once again leading the Democratic field in overall digital spending. Meanwhile, Kamala Harris’ nearly quadrupled her spending on the platforms, mostly on Facebook, running hundreds of ads smartly capitalizing on her performance grilling Attorney General Barr last week at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Here are the top Facebook and Google spenders from April 28 – May 4:
Deep Dive: Inside the Right’s Year-Round Facebook Infrastructure
Every Election cycle, as you’d expect, political advocacy groups spend millions of dollars on Facebook ads to drive narratives, acquire supporters, and encourage their followers to take action. 2020 is no different. However, we’ve noticed a growing collection of high-spending, obscure Facebook pages related to politics that aren’t clearly tied to any well-known political organizations.
Many of these pages, like PragerU, CRTV, and Concealed Online, to name a few, are using innovative content marketing tactics to reinforce the President’s messaging on a daily basis around immigration, gun safety, healthcare, and the economy – and they’re reaching millions of voters. Let’s take a look.
Pushing “Educational” Videos
Prager University, or PragerU, is a far-right conservative digital content property masking as an educational institution, and registered as a nonprofit. Their speciality is churning out slick, 5-minute persuasion videos highlighting hardline conservative positions on nearly every political issue. PragerU has spent $1,734,983 on Facebook since Election Day. That’s a larger investment than any one of the 2020 Democratic candidates, the DNC, DCCC, DSCC, and almost every other progressive organization has made during the same time period online.
PragerU has consistently been among the top political spenders on Facebook for weeks and spent $72,070 on Facebook ads last week alone. Their video ads push out non-stop anti-immigrant, anti-worker, anti-environment, and anti-choice messaging. Here’s some of what they’re running:
Ad targeting immigrants in Texas with anti-Left messaging
Believe it or not, PragerU is actually registered with the IRS as a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity organization, which means the group can accept unlimited, tax-deductible donations.
Regardless, PragerU has focused on a clear strategy – create social-first, platform specific content to drive narratives to their target audiences… and they already boast over two billion views of their videos:
Conservative “News” Properties
In last week’s edition of FWIW, we flagged that The Epoch Times was the number four political spender on Facebook, pushing hundreds of pro-Trump and anti-Biden ads. Cumulatively, it appears the Epoch Times has spent $543,544 on pro-Trump Facebook ads since Election Day – but only started their significant spending in February.
Just last week, they continued to spend big, investing another $151,299 on nearly 400 ads pushing pro-Trump propaganda:
Blaze Media and CRTV, which runs a network of newsy-like conservative content properties on Facebook, is also a regular and consistent high dollar spender on the platform. Personalities like Eric Bolling, Mark Levin, and others use various pages to spend tens of thousands of dollars pushing original content featuring pro-Trump messaging:
CRTV in particular has been repeatedly criticized for spreading misinformation on Facebook, sometimes masking their messaging in videos that garner over a million views.
These types of unconventional digital media properties are having an impact on our political process. They provide videos and other types of content that is optimized for dissemination and high-engagement on Facebook – and based on an analysis of the Facebook political ad archives, they’re overwhelmingly conservative. Even as platforms like Facebook attempt to increase self-regulation in the area of political ads, these publishers are making the task nearly impossible.
The Bottom Line:
Conservatives have learned how to use Facebook to reach audiences year-round, and serve them with original, platform-specific, red-meat content to keep them engaged on issues vital to the President’s re-election. On top of that, they’re spending millions to grow their audiences and produce more content – a form of owned digital media infrastructure that is largely absent on the left.
BONUS: Friends of the Pod 🎙️
On Monday, ACRONYM’s Founder and CEO Tara McGowan was featured on Pod Save America to speak with Tommy Vietor about the 2020 campaign, FWIW, and what Democrats need to do to beat Trump. Listen to the interview here (it begins at the 51:00 minute mark).
Read + share 🤳
That’s all for this week. But before you go, we want to make one ask of you – if you love FWIW, forward this email to three friends. They can sign up for weekly updates at www.anotheracronym.org/fwiw, follow us on Twitter and email us with ideas of what we should dive into next.
– the team at ACRONYM
P.S. You can find today’s issue of FWIW here and read this week’s edition of FWIW Virginia at this link.