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.
At 77 years old and after decades of public service, former Vice President Joe Biden is having his next big moment. The other top candidates are giving him a run for his money (sometimes literally), but conventional wisdom (and polling) suggests that Uncle Joe remains the national frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for President likely thanks to name recognition, positive association with the Obama administration, and sustaining strong support among black voters. In this week’s candidate-specific deep dive, we take a look at how the former VP is running his digital campaign in the run-up to the first caucuses and primaries.
Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has spent over $35 million on Facebook + Google since the 2018 midterm elections. With impeachment back in the national conversation as the Senate takes up the trial, the President continues to fundraise for his “Impeachment Defense Fund.” 🙄
And here’s the Trump campaign’s digital investment over time (it looks like the campaign may have started to raise their digital spending floor for the foreseeable future ):
On the Democratic side, Pete Buttigieg’s campaign is turning up their hyper-localized digital ads. A brand new component to his digital strategy in Iowa seeks to combine digital advertising and relational organizing in a way we’ve hoped campaigns would. 🏼They’re running ads featuring straight-to-camera videos made by supporters using their cell phones, then targeting those ads directly to voters within those supporters’ communities. In doing so, his campaign is empowering his supporters’ voices and digitally amplifying some of the best political messengers they can get to convert others to caucus for Pete – the voters themselves.
On the other end of the Democratic primary contest, Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard seem to be going for broke in the early states. In the past 30 days, #YangGang has spent over $120,000 on Facebook ads in Iowa and over $54,000 on ads in New Hampshire, outspending everyone but Buttigieg and Steyer in both states.
Over the same past 30 days in New Hampshire, Gabbard is the next biggest spender on Facebook after Yang at over $34,000. In South Carolina, she’s spent over $41,000, outspending all of the top Democratic candidates.
The two candidates may be going all out on their spending in these states, but their angles could not be more different. Quite a few of Yang’s ads in the early states promote positive news stories about him – which we think is a smart move, since people tend to trust news stories more than they trust political ads. Gabbard, on the other hand, is leaning hard as ever into her military background in her ads, going so far as to promote her anti-war spots with the best and brightest at Fox News. 🤢
You can read more about the breakdown of Democratic primary candidates’ early state spending in this New York Times interactive – out today – that we partnered with their reporters on.
On Snapchat, the only candidate who’s spent significantly more on the platform since last week was Pete Buttigieg, who spent about $24,000 in the past week.
Here’s a look at the cumulative Facebook + Google investment for the top spending Democratic candidates for President:
The weeks are ticking down to the first caucuses of 2020 and candidates made their final televised pitch to Iowa voters in this week’s Democratic debate. Iowans were treated to Warren and Bernie’s spiciest moments on the trail so far, and made us realize that 1990 was, in fact, 30 years ago. Here are the top five spenders in the Hawkeye State over the past seven days:
…and here are the top political ad spenders on Facebook + Google last week.
Deep Dive: Just Biden his time 🕶
Since its launch back in April 2019, Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign has stayed fairly narrowly focused on running against Trump as the presumed frontrunner while his Democratic opponents have all taken their turns trading snipes at each other. At this week’s debate, he spoke the least out of the top candidates on the stage. Any of the rhetorical fumbles he made are lost in the wind compared to the media attention being awarded to a 15-second spat between Warren and Sanders after the debate ended. 🙄
Currently, Biden enjoys a competitive standing or healthy lead pretty much everywhere. His polling is pretty close to the candidates leading in critical early states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and California. Anywhere else though, and especially in Southern states like South Carolina where many Democratic voters are African-American, Biden has a 10- to 20-point polling advantage.
In total, Joe Biden has spent just over $5 million on Google and Facebook ads this cycle. To put that in perspective, that’s about half as much as the other top candidates have spent on digital ads – Buttigieg, Sanders, and Warren each spent at least $10 million so far. FWIW – and from what we can track – his digital strategy seems to be heavily focused on reaching voters on Facebook. He’s spent about $1.5 million on Google, but that still isn’t as much as Beto O’Rourke spent, for example, who spent nearly $2 million on the platform before dropping out in November (RIP ). And interestingly, his campaign got some attention for their cross-platform OTT advertising strategy in Ad Week last November.
When it comes to what his campaign has been talking about in their ad programs, here’s a breakdown on the issues and keywords Biden has most prominently featured in his campaign’s Facebook ads over the past year (keep in mind, he only has about 9,300 ads in the Facebook Ad Library):
Joe the frontrunner
Biden’s Facebook ads are pretty conventional. Promoting local events in the early states, asking for donations, email acquisitions – that sort of thing. However, what seems to set Biden’s ads apart from the rest of the field, especially his fundraising and acquisition ads, is that he has consistently painted himself as the presumptive nominee and in turn, most of his ads look the part of a general-election campaign.
In 2016, Trump’s campaign benefited enormously from free earned media. Biden is now enjoying similar coverage: week after week after week, he’s been the most-mentioned candidate in the news, though the jury is out on whether all coverage is good coverage…
What cannot be denied, however, is Trump’s obsession with Biden, a fact which the Biden campaign has now turned into a sticky ad that highlights the former veep’s work in the Obama administration and his encouraging polling in swing states, two of his biggest strengths in the race. According to CNN, the ad will make a one-day run on TV before moving over to YouTube and Hulu.
Earlier this week, the Biden campaign also announced a plan to invest $70 million in HBCUs if elected POTUS – an announcement that his campaign also promoted on Snapchat. And thanks to Snap’s detailed ad library, we also know that the campaign ran the ad geofenced to target four HBCUs in South Carolina: Claflin University and South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, Morris College in Sumter, and Benedict College in Columbia. All told, the campaign spent less than $150 on the ads, but we’ll still applaud the effort to experiment with hyper-targeted digital strategies like this.
TEXT JOE TO 30330
When it comes to organizing, the Biden campaign seems to be funneling most of their organic engagement into their peer-to-peer texting program. When interested supporters text in, they’re asked for their full name, email, and zip code, and then they get pinged occasionally with small-dollar fundraising asks. His campaign has the call-to-action prominently placed on his Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages, and since it’s also in his Twitter name, whoever sees his tweets will be urged to join. And, of course, who could forget Joe himself making the plea at the end of the August debate.
Will Joe’s slow and steady digital spending ramp up as Iowa nears closer? Will he start to engage more directly with his fellow nominees online as the competition heats up? We can’t know for sure but you can count on us to keep watching + sharing what we see on the socials.
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