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. [Having a hard time reading this newsletter? Read online here.]
Primary voters in New Hampshire and beyond now face a new political reality. Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg succeeded in Iowa, Joe Biden got a “gut punch,” and Donald Trump joked yet again about holding office forever after being acquitted by the Senate. 🤮 In just a few days we’ll see who Granite Staters want to run against Trump, so in today’s issue, we take a deep dive into the Democrats’ digital strategies + investment in the nation’s first presidential primary.
About this week
As longtime subscribers to this newsletter, many of you already know that aside from tracking digital spending, ACRONYM runs its own advertising programs, as well as invests in for-profit companies. You definitely have now read about one of those companies, Shadow, contributing to the Iowa reporting delays. If you want to learn more about what happened, ACRONYM’s structure, and how it invests in companies like Shadow, check out this explainer Medium post from ACRONYM CEO Tara McGowan.
Meanwhile, the Trump campaign isn’t taking their foot off the gas, and there are only 269 days until Election Day. Let’s dig in.
2020, by the numbers
Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has spent over $40 million on Facebook + Google ads since the 2018 midterms. They ran over $100,000 worth of ads on Vice President Mike Pence’s page earlier this week – something the campaign hasn’t done for months – to promote the State of the Union address. The president, who wants to keep the nation’s attention to himself at all costs, is running fundraising ads featuring Speaker Pelosi ripping up his trash speech.
This week, the Trump campaign spent over $2 million, the most his campaign has spent on digital ads in one week since his impeachment began. This is likely because the Trump team ramped up ads surrounding both the impeachment trial’s conclusion and his State of the Union address. Too bad it ended up being the least-watched SOTU of his presidency. 🤷♀️
On the Democratic side, Mike Bloomberg’s campaign has spent $57.8 million on Facebook and Google ads in total – with $12.7 million spent in the last week. Bernie’s campaign really accelerated their spending ahead of Iowa, dropping over $1 million in a seven day period… and Tom Steyer, now considered a front-runner in SC and NV by some, has started to go negative on his opponents with this new ad.
… and here are the top political spenders on Facebook + Google last week:
Deep Dive: Take Nothing for Granite
With voting officially underway, the Democratic primary has shifted from a yearlong marathon to a week-to-week sprint. ♂️Leading up to the #FITN primary, Bernie Sanders has a strong polling advantage in New Hampshire, but in a rapidly changing news and polling cycle, it’s once again anyone’s guess as to what could happen. While all eyes have been on Iowa for the past few weeks, here are the top spenders in New Hampshire from the past 30 days:
… and here are the candidates whose ads earned the most impressions in New Hampshire for the past year. Just like we saw in Iowa, the Buttigieg campaign has served more paid content on Facebook to New Hampshirites than any other front-runner… by a lot. Also notable: Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard have spent significantly here on Facebook:
Frontrunners look for success in New England
The state of the race to become the Democratic nominee has become even more volatile, and all of the top candidates are looking for a solid performance on Tuesday to keep their spots in the top tier or stay in the race altogether. All four of the frontrunners seem to be making a huge online fundraising pitch ahead of Tuesday’s primary, and they’re all trying to paint themselves as the candidate that will beat President Trump this November.
Joe Biden, despite a likely fourth-place finish in Iowa, is sticking to his guns. In his most recent Facebook ads, his campaign continues to parade his strong general election polling against Trump, as well as push slick biographical videos. However, it seems they’re also trying to fundraise off the notion that he may lose in New Hampshire as well. Not to fear, a super-PAC supporting him is reportedly targeting the state with significant advertising dollars.
Elizabeth Warren is also trying to pick up momentum in New Hampshire. Unlike Biden, who’s now going on the offensive against Bernie and Pete, Warren is staying the course as a unity candidate – she’s still portraying herself as a grassroots reformer who can and will take on Trump.
It also looks like Warren is up with some brand new Instagram Story video ads, a tactic that she seems to be capitalizing on the most. Warren’s ads there are mostly either direct fundraising appeals or promoting her work with President Obama to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the latter of which she’s also running on TV.
Meanwhile, Buttigieg’s campaign is continuing their local digital outreach strategy. They’re targeting New Hampshire voters with a video ad featuring clips from some of his supporters in New Hampshire, much like how they amplified their Iowan supporters in their ads. He’s also advertising his endorsement from Granite State royalty, Rep. Annie Kuster. 🏼
Right now, Bernie is in one of the strongest positions to win New Hampshire, thanks to his encouraging polling and his massive $25 million fundraising haul from January. His campaign is capitalizing on its fundraising strength nationally in the run-up to Tuesday’s primary, and in New Hampshire, he’s targeting the state with some really nice new video ads.
Some promote a specific issue, such as his stance on protecting Social Security, while others make a broader appeal with his progressive anti-billionaire platform. They all drive home his campaign’s populist drumbeat of working together to defeat Donald Trump and everything he represents.
New Hampshire or bust
The top four candidates have raced from Iowa to New Hampshire this week, but some of the other candidates seem to have been investing a significant amount of their resources into the state to create a breakout moment of their own.
Sen. Michael Bennet, for example, seems to be gambling on performing at all in the state. FWIW, we found that almost all of the ads that he’s run so far this year on Facebook target New Hampshire. In one of his most recent ads – which, to reiterate, targets New Hampshire – Bennet touts his endorsement from the Ragin’ Cajun, James Carville. Other recent ads highlight his stance on public education through his experience as Denver Public Schools superintendent.
The other candidate who seems to be betting it all (or almost all) on New Hampshire is Andrew Yang, but he’s let go of several members of his senior staff. Yang has been a top spender in the state and, like Bennet, almost all of Yang’s post-Iowa Facebook ads target New Hampshire. The vast majority of these ads promote his upcoming town halls preceding Tuesday’s primary, but a couple of new video ads promote his vision and endorsements from two local papers across the border in Massachusetts.
One more thing… sign up for The Senate FYI!
That’s all for FWIW this week! But before you go, we have one more ask of you! We’re tracking the digital battle for control of the U.S. Senate via our new newsletter, The Senate FYI. Check out the first issues here, and click below to subscribe!