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.
With wall-to-wall media coverage, endless hot takes on Twitter, and a growing chorus of attack ads coming from the Left, the coronavirus pandemic has taken over our politics (in addition to impacting our daily lives). However, the Trump campaign, at least in terms of paid advertising, has been radio silent on the issue. If they aren’t running ads, how – and what – are they communicating to their supporters to keep them in line? In this week’s FWIW, we take a deep dive into what messages the Trump campaign is driving online.
2020, by the numbers
Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has spent over $47.6 million on Facebook + Google advertising since the 2018 midterm elections. By contrast, Joe Biden’s campaign has spent $13.6 million, and the Sanders campaign has spent $20.9 million.
Here’s how much each of the Presidential campaigns spent on Facebook + Google advertising last week:
Note: while Bernie Sanders’ campaign spent money on advertising during this period, his ads ended around March 18th and have yet to go back online.
Donald Trump’s campaign was the biggest political spender on Google advertising last week, followed by Joe Biden.
Something that’s gone unreported: Google has prohibited all political advertising mentioning coronavirus – and places a disclaimer featuring CDC information on all YouTube videos mentioning the topic.
Outside groups like PACRONYM, Priorities USA, American Bridge, and Unite the Country are now all running ads in battleground states on Facebook hitting Trump for his failures to respond to this crisis. And POLITICO reported this week that some in the White House were upset at pro-Trump Super PAC America First for not responding in turn. Instead, America First seems to still be running old ads urging supporters to “stop the impeachment plot.”
Deep Dive: The Trump coronavirus ads that weren’t 🦠
To our knowledge, the Trump campaign hasn’t bought a single ad online mentioning this crisis, which is indisputably the topic on most American’s minds right now, and the biggest threat to the president’s re-election chances. That said, we have a good idea of what those ads would look like if they started running today – because the campaign has been dedicating creative resources to videos and graphics, as well as blasting out messaging to supporters on a daily basis on Facebook on the issue. Here’s a round-up of how the Trump campaign is talking to its supporters online.
Step 1: Brag about the polls
While polls are split over his handling of this crisis, Trump’s team wants to give his supporters ammunition to defend him against attacks. His campaign shared the below graphic this week on Facebook:
They may want to back off sharing these numbers in the near future though. Navigating Coronavirus, a new daily polling and research product on Trump’s response to the pandemic, shows that the numbers on this issue aren’t looking so good for the President. Follow their daily updates here.
Step 2: Bash the “Radical Democrats”
The Trump campaign’s video production team hasn’t been taking time off. As negotiations for the massive relief package moving through Congress heated up, Trump Campaign Manager Brad Parscale had staff cut videos this week echoing the campaign’s messaging for months and bashing Nancy Pelosi and radical Democrats.
Another video, published on YouTube on Tuesday, claimed that “we’re at war” and accused Democrats of “putting politics over people’s lives.”
Step 3: Blame Obama
On Tuesday, the Trump campaign texted their massive list of supporters the below message, linking to a Washington Examiner story. The piece, written by a social media manager for the right-wing site, accuses the Obama administration of depleting the federal stock of surgical masks. The text echoed one of Trump’s recent statements laying blame on his predecessor and encouraged supporters to help Trump blame Obama by sharing the news on their Facebook feeds.
BONUS: The Lara Trump Show™
The campaign has begun prominently featuring one of its most enthusiastic surrogates, Lara Trump, in its video content and live stream events this week. The President’s daughter-in-law has always been a staple in the campaign’s ads – and now the campaign is using her voice to communicate campaign updates during the crisis.
On Thursday, the campaign hosted a virtual Women for Trump event featuring Lara and other surrogates to chat about the President’s handling of the pandemic response – and they ran targeted ads on Facebook to build an audience for that event. Over 500,000 supporters watched the video – and this tactic is reminiscent of the Sanders campaign’s dominance of the internet live stream.
…On a more serious note, there were many others driving the facts and influencing the narrative online this week. First responders and medical professionals around the country have been sharing heartwrenching stories and are featured in videos online to keep the public informed – and they’re the real heroes here.
One more thing… 🤳
That’s all for FWIW this week! We hope you stay healthy and sane, and continue practice social distancing! But before you go, we have one more ask of you! Follow us on Twitter! We’ll be sharing real-time updates and research there as this crisis continues to play out online.