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.
The first presidential debates of the 2020 cycle are finally here…with 20 Democratic candidates taking the stage in Miami next week on back-to-back nights to try to have their “breakout moment.” But the debate frenzy is already taking place online with the campaigns who made the cut using their podium on the debate stage to their advantage to grow, engage, organize and fundraise off of their early supporter base. In this week’s FWIW, we take a look at how the Democratic presidential campaigns are preparing for the debates online…and make sure to stay tuned for next week’s issue, when we’ll look at how the candidates took advantage of their brief moments on stage.
2020 by the numbers
Donald Trump’s campaign significantly ramped up its digital spending ahead of his reelection campaign “launch” this on Tuesday, but as we know Trump has never really stopped campaigning since he won in 2016, especially when it comes to running online ads. His campaign and the RNC claimed to have raised a shocking combined $24.8 million in 24 hours on Wednesday. If they’re not playing with the numbers (which they very well could be 🙄), that figure would smash the single-day fundraising records of Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke, and Bernie Sanders combined.
On the Democratic side, Elizabeth Warren has now spent over $2 million on Facebook and Google advertising since launching her campaign January 1. Harris, Biden, Sanders remain overall top spenders as well – and Gillibrand shows no sign of slowing down her recent online advertising onslaught:
FWIW, here are the top political spenders on Facebook + Google from June 9 – 15:
Michael Bloomberg landed in this week’s top 10 Facebook spenders as he launched his Beyond Carbon campaign, which he may have decided was better investment of his time and money than running for president in a 20+ person field. 🤷He outspent all the 2020 candidates on Facebook this week, with the exception of Kirsten Gillibrand’s campaign. Here’s some of what he’s running:
Deep Dive: The Digital Debate, Part 1
The Twitterverse is going to explode next week with all of the takes during and after the debate about who won, who had their breakout moment, and who should probably just drop out already. But for weeks now, the campaigns have already been using the debates as a key fundraising and organizing opportunity. We took a look at how the 2020 Democratic hopefuls are taking advantage of next week’s main event as a hook to re-engage their supporters online.
“We’ve got to book tickets and a hotel reservation ASAP.”
Nearly all of the candidates on the debate stage next week have used their appearance at the events as a key fundraising tactic. Now that 20 candidates have earned their spot in the debate, they’ve temporarily shifted gears from begging for a dollar to make the stage, to now begging for a dollar from supporters to win a chance to attend the debate. In the past week, we’ve received over a dozen emails from campaigns asking us to ENTER TO WIN a free, all expenses paid trip to the debate in Miami.
This tactic is a tried-and-true online fundraising best practice and so uniform among the campaigns, it almost seems coordinated. We look forward to finding out who the lucky winners are (and what they state they hail from)…In the meantime though, we LOL-ed at Andrew Yang’s video pitch to voters to join him in Miami here:
“I’ll be blunt, you’ve been selected.”
Bernie Sanders, Julián Castro, and Kirsten Gillibrand have all been capitalizing on pre-debate energy by running time-sensitive survey ads that *shockingly* require you to provide your email and ask for a donation. These kinds of surveys are also great ways campaigns can collect data on what issues their supporters care about, and (hopefully) engage them better in the future.
Its party time
The campaigns have been planning for this event for *literally* months. In terms of actual, on-the-ground organizing, these debates present an incredible opportunity for energized supporters to come together, meet each other (and campaign staff) in person, and bring their involvement in the campaign to the next level.
Warren, Gillibrand, and Harris’ campaigns have been sending text messages for the past few weeks asking supporters to host or attend watch parties in their area.
Others have been sharing on social and running Facebook advertising trying to create a critical mass of supporter-hosted watch party events around the country:
The majority of the 2020 campaigns for president are using next week’s debates as a smart online fundraising and organizing tactic in order to maximize their appearance on stage, and raise a few bucks while doing so. From text messages, watch parties, and even free trips to Miami, this type of online engagement is the new normal for how campaigns engage around major televised events moving forward. IOHO, the growth in supporters and online dollars campaigns will gain by promoting the debate in advance, and capitalizing on whatever zingers their candidates land during – can be way more valuable than the brief seconds voters will see them on stage on TV.
BONUS: All politics is local 🏘️
Each week, we scroll through *literally hundreds* (or maybe thousands?) of Facebook ads, the majority of which have big shiny buttons with “donate”, “RSVP”, or “sign-up!” asks. Earlier this week however, one candidate started running hyper-local ads boosting news stories in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.
Pete Buttigieg’s campaign is using Facebook ads to directly address early state voters about issues happening in their community. That shouldn’t be a surprising or novel use of the platform, but in an industry dominated by DC-based political consultants only focused on acquisition, it is a shockingly rare (and welcome) move – and one we’ve been talking about for a long time.
One more thing… 🤳
That’s all for this week. But before you go, we want to make one ask of you – if you love FWIW, follow us on Twitter. There you’ll find additional insights as we dig through research throughout the week.