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.
Each week, we take a look at how the various candidates running for president are investing online. But campaigns aren’t the only groups reaching out to voters online about what’s at stake in next year’s election. So what other entities are spending money to influence hearts and minds this early in the cycle? And which outside groups or digital properties are reinforcing (or combatting) the Trump campaign’s messaging online? We break it down in this week’s FWIW.
2020 by the numbers
Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has now spent $16.4 million on Facebook + Google advertising since the midterm elections. We noticed that the California Republican Party, which usually doesn’t spend big online, has launched a five-figure Facebook ad campaign raising money “to demand Trump is on the ballot” in the state next year. That’s because the Trump campaign, state GOP, and RNC are fighting a recent law that requires candidates to release their tax returns in order to run for president.
This week, Tom Steyer’s campaign surpassed every other 2020 Democratic candidate to become the biggest online spender on the left. His campaign has primarily invested heavily in online fundraising ads in order to make the DNC’s 130,000 donor debate threshold, which they reportedly met this week. Some folks aren’t too happy about it. 🤐
…and here are the top political spenders on Facebook + Google from August 4 – August 10.
Deep Dive: Outside influence
If you are a loyal FWIW reader (), you know better than most that the general election has been underway for many months now – and Trump’s campaign has already spent heavily online to build and energize his base, primarily with anti-immigrant and anti-socialism messaging. But tracking his and Democratic campaigns’ investments online only shows us a fraction of what messages are reaching voters online to influence their opinion – and potentially their vote choice next year. On both the left and right, outside groups are also spending heavily online to defend or attack the president’s positions on key issues. In the past 90 days alone, obscure Facebook pages, partisan news sites, and large advocacy organizations have all invested in getting their narratives out on Facebook and Google – let’s take a closer look:
On the left
The following nationally-focused progressive organizations or Facebook pages have all run ads critical of Trump or in support of impeachment in the past 90 days:
Six of the top 15 spenders on the left are environmental advocacy organizations like Sierra Club and NRDC, who have been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Facebook to oppose the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken the Endangered Species Act. While there are hundreds of groups advertising around specific administration issues, these groups’ messaging is pointed and political – asking supporters to join the “Trump resistance” and referring to the “Trump Extinction Plan”.
Absent from the top 15 progressive spenders on Facebook are major progressive groups. Several organizations have announced plans to ramp up their digital advertising, but have not yet begun significant spending. This week, Priorities USA began to spend on Facebook ads with their “Let’s Be Honest” campaign, and hopefully others will ramp up in the coming weeks – as no single organization is directly taking on Trump outside of single-issue advocacy groups at the scale they would need to compete with his campaign’s spending.
On the right
These Facebook pages and conservative organizations have each run ads in support of Trump, his policies, or attacking the Mueller investigation over the past few months:
Back in April, we shined a light on the massive amounts of money being spent by obscure digital outlets like The Epoch Times and Prager University to defend the president and reinforce the Trump campaign’s narratives. Those two sites continue to be the biggest outside spenders on the right, filling voters’ newsfeeds with unmistakably pro-Trump and anti-Democrat propaganda.
Other conservative outside spenders have much more transparent aims… legacy organizations on the right like Judicial Watch and Heritage consistently run ads year-round boosting the administration’s positions on immigration and the economy:
Meanwhile, on Google…
Outside spenders have invested less heavily on Google and Youtube, with some notable exceptions. A group called We Build the Wall, Inc has spent nearly $400,000 in the past 90 days running banner ads pushing pro-Trump messaging like this:
There is no question that outside groups are going to have a massive, unprecedented influence on the online battle for the White House in 2020. And if these past 90 days are any indication, we could see these and other groups like them spend tens of millions of dollars across digital platforms to define the conversation around the general election before there Democrats even have a clear frontrunner to take on Trump next year.
Equally worth noting is that based on these past 90 days of spending across Facebook and Google alone, all signs point to conservative groups having a clear spending advantage when it comes to making their case directly to voters across the country for a second term of President Trump. Competitive spending by campaigns and outside groups has nearly always been a barometer for who’s up and who’s down in a given race – progressive groups would be smart to take this early discrepancy in digital spend seriously. 🏼
BONUS: Trump merch is big business
Earlier this week we noticed the massive amount of money being spent by pro-Trump Facebook pages selling t-shirts, knock-off MAGA hats, commemorative coins, and more. By our count, over three dozen pages have cumulatively spent $4 million on Facebook ads in the past 90 days pushing Trump swag. Have you been targeted by any of these ads on your newsfeeds? Shoot us a note- we’d love to know!
One more thing… 🤳
That’s all for this week. But before you go, we have one more ask of you! We’re bringing FWIW on the road to SXSW in Austin next March to share our forecast for what digital tactics and investments we expect (or hope) to see from campaigns on both sides in the final stretch of the election, but we still need your help to get there! Please take a second to vote for our panel below!