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.
The President and First Lady have allegedly tested positive for COVID 19. The first presidential debate on Tuesday was, to quote CNN’s Dana Bash, a complete “shitshow.” The President’s former Campaign Manager was arrested shirtless outside of his home. A Supreme Court confirmation fight has already begun. The First Lady apparently declared war on Christmas. The Vice Presidential debate is next week and there are 32 days left in this election. Happy October, TGIF, and if you haven’t already, make your plan to vote right now.
In this week’s FWIW, we recap the immediate digital aftermath of this week’s debate, how the Biden and Trump campaigns are setting up for the final month of the 2020 election, and more.
2020, BY THE NUMBERS
Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has spent over $195.3 million on Facebook + Google advertising since the midterm elections. Joe Biden has spent $123.1 million advertising on those same platforms. Here’s how much each campaign spent just last week:
The Trump campaign’s Facebook spending last week grew by about $2.3 million from the previous week, but otherwise, the campaigns’ digital spending remained steady. Among his latest FB ad buys includes persuasion ads featuring testimonials from his working-class supporters praising the president for things like preserving fracking and allegedly uplifting Black Americans. These in particular were primarily targeted to young folks in MI and PA.
FWIW, here are the rest of the top spenders on Facebook last week:
Here’s what last week looked like in terms of Google advertising:
And finally, here’s how much the campaigns and non-advocacy outside groups have spent on Snapchat so far. It seems that both the Trump and Biden campaigns might be investing in the platform more regularly; on top of the $300k+ the Biden campaign spend we reported last week, they spent an additional $25k this week, and the Trump campaign spent around $26k on the platform.
FWIW, most of the Trump campaign’s recent spend was for some pretty lame Snapchat lenses for supporters to use during the debate. Unclear if anyone used them.
Each week, we’re breaking down Facebook spending in key presidential battleground states.Here’s how much the campaigns and major outside groups spent on ads focused on the presidential race from September 20 to September 26:
So about that “debate”…
A lot has been said about how virtually unwatchable the first official presidential debate of the 2020 race was, but if anyone benefitted, it was the Biden campaign’s fundraising team. During the debate itself, they raised over $10 million. Combined with the $20+ million they raised on September 30before the debate began, Tuesday ended up being the campaign’s most lucrative day of the campaign…so far.
And the Biden campaign might just be able to keep up that momentum as we enter the final month. While the Trump campaign is happy to hog up the YouTube homepage for a lot of the final stretch this year, including during the debate, the Biden campaign launched a major advertising wave on Wednesday, taking over top internet real estate, including the homepages of AOL, Yahoo, CNN, Fox News, Pandora, Univision, Reddit, The Daily Mail, CBS Sports, and more.
That said, the Trump campaign and its ecosystem of troll farms set off almost immediately after the debate ended to try to convince folks that Trump actually did great and that Biden cheated. Neither of these is true, obviously, but that isn’t going to stop them from trying. The Washington Post actually put together a pretty killer illustration of how much News Feeds on Facebook have become even more polluted with right-wing garbage since 2016.
Amongst Trump’s post-debate Facebook ads, for example, Media Matters estimates that they spent about $7,300 on ads claiming that Biden wore an AirPod during the debate. They’re also trying to fundraise on the platform using clips they seem to think were highlights for Trump.
A new ad library: Roku
With more and more voters cutting ties with their cable companies and switching wholesale to TV digital streaming platforms, it follows that political advertisers would follow them. But unlike with Facebook, Google, and Snapchat, the public was in the dark about who exactly was running political ads on platforms like Hulu, Roku TV, and others.
That appears to be changing, however. Just this week, Roku published its first Political Transparency platform, giving us a glimpse at what voters are seeing when they stream their favorite content using the player. While Roku is literally doing *the bare minimum* and not providing actual spend data (at least as of yet), we can see who’s advertising on their platform and what messages those advertisers are putting in front of voters going back to early July.
In just the past week, we can see that a whole lot of progressive groups advertised on the platform, including Biden for President, PACRONYM, Priorities USA, American Bridge, and United Steelworkers. And they’re pretty good! Check out this one from our friends over at NextGen America:
The Trump cavalry arrives
The “debate” may have drawn in 71 million eyeballs, but that leaves over 200 million Americans who didn’t get to see Trump at his most Trumpian. It appears that, knowing that fact, Trump-supporting outside groups are using targeted ads to preserve the illusion that the president is a functioning, well-adjusted adult – or that Biden is somehow worse.
America First Action is among them, and they’re going for the angle that Biden is “weak,” and implying that he’s powerless before a frightening horde of leftist “thugs.” To do so, they’re showcasing white business owners in Kenosha who claim their businesses were destroyed or otherwise threatened by “riots,” and for some reason projecting Kamala Harris’ face onto a partially collapsed brick wall. As far as we can tell, they’re targeting these to folks in WI and parts of NC.
Also coming again to Trump’s defense is the Sheldon Adelson-led Preserve America PAC, which is also trying to paint Biden as weak, but with a different messenger: disabled veterans.
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.