Welcome to the Senate FYI! Each week, we’ll track how the battle to flip the Senate is playing out where voters get their information—online. We’ll monitor spending on digital advertising, as well as watch how the campaigns are engaging supporters and voters online.
After Q2 ended, a lot of U.S. Senate candidates put a break on their digital ads after making a huge online fundraising push around the June EOQ FEC filing deadline. Last week, though, several others turned their ad spending WAY up as they made an apparent shift to persuasion. In this week’s Senate FYI, we take a look at what some of these new paid digital campaigns look like.
But first…some exciting news! This morning, our friends over at NextGen America rolled out a slate of Senate endorsements and matching digital ads to encourage young voters to turn out in key races this November. Check it out!
Kelly Loeffler is now running a new social media + email oppo campaign against Doug Collins that very sharply criticizes the congressman’s time as a criminal defense attorney. We’re reluctant to come to the defense of one of Trump’s most fervent supporters, but attacking the legal defense of an addict like this is a pretty low-ball tactic, even for Republicans.
Speaking of the GOP feud in Georgia, the Collins camp has put out a new microsite attacking Loeffler for her controversial stock trading. The site, shadytrades.com, appears to be rather cleverly designed to parody Robinhood.
In Louisiana, it looks like Sen. Bill Cassidy finally has a credible opponent: the 34-year-old mayor of Shreveport, Adrian Perkins, whose launch video got almost 80k views on Twitter in its first five hours. He’s got a short, very steep hill to overcome in this race, to be sure, but at least Cassidy won’t be running virtually unopposed anymore.
On Wednesday, Pat Roberts endorsed Roger Marshall over Kris Kobach to inherit the seat he’s retiring from, but it looks like the Kobach campaign might try to turn the endorsement against Marshall. Relatedly, Mitch McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund made a $1.2 million TV ad buy through the August 4 primary to support Marshall.
After over six and a half months of tracking Facebook + Google spending by candidates in key U.S. Senate races, it looks to us like there are three schools of thought on how much a campaign should spend on these platforms.
First, championed by Mark Kelly, is to spend millions on digital ads. Second, and more commonly, is to spend moderately, like in the case of Theresa Greenfield or Susan Collins. Finally, some have opted to only nominally invest in digital ads, and this last group is exclusively made up of Republican candidates like Thom Tillis.
Of the candidates who significantly stepped down their FB + Google ad spending, like Cal Cunningham and John Hickenlooper, seem to be maintaining their spending at a moderate level – for now. Spending patterns can often change on a dime, so we’ll hold our breath before making any judgments.
With Q2 behind us, quite a few campaigns seem to already be turning their large fundraising hauls into big investments in targeted digital persuasion ads on Facebook and Google. Let’s take a look at what these campaigns are spending all their bigger paid digital budgets on, starting with Iowa’s junior senator, Joni Ernst.
From July 5-11, the Ernst campaign spent just over $5k on digital ads. Last week, they spent over $105k – a 2,100% jump in spending. While her campaign’s digital spending has grown on both FB + Google, about $80k of this new spending last week went to Google ads – which is itself a 4,700% increase in Google spending by them from the previous week, when they only spent $1,700!
There isn’t much creative variety in the Ernst campaign’s new YouTube ads. In fact, all of that $80k+ went to running variations of the samethreepersuasion ads, but there is a fair amount of variety in their targeting, down to the county level.
While some target whole swaths of the state, others target just a few counties, or even just one. There appears to be at least some correlation between this targeting and Iowa’s three competitive U.S. House seats, but regardless it’s safe to say that the Ernst campaign has activated a huge persuasion testing program here.
Moving up and over to Maine, Sara Gideon’s campaign just about doubled their FB + Google spending to ~$160k last week from ~$80k the previous week, mostly on Facebook.
We found that the vast majority of this spending targets Mainers with a few new persuasion ads: one that counters an ad from the Collins camp, one that criticizes Collins for saying Trump learned his lesson after he was impeached, and another that highlights the fact that Gideon led the effort to cap the price of insulin.
Last week, Gary Peters’ campaign spent more on FB + Google ads in one week than they have all year. There are some new nationwide fundraising ads, but all told, 92% of their FB ad buy (~$23k of ~$25k) last week went toward targeting Michiganders.
Their new persuasion ads primarily focus on three issues – small businesses, criminal justice, and beer – but as we’ve come to expect from the Peters campaign, they’re testing a significant variety of ad creative. Interestingly though, very few ads, if any, target both men and women, and overall the targeting skews younger.
And finally, after Tommy Tuberville ended Jeff Sessions’ political career last week, Doug Jones used the opportunity to raise some major $$$. Their campaign spent over $130k on Facebook ads last week, making them one of the biggest ad spenders on the platform that week nationwide. About a third of this recent buy, a little over $40k, went to targeting Facebook ads at Alabamians.
The Jones campaign must have been preparing to list-build and fundraise off of the results for some time, because they pushed out a huge variety of static and video ads. They’re clearly testing the effectiveness of several variables, like color schemes, thumbnails, bar chart designs, pictures of Jones, graphic ratios, copy variations, and even James Carville. The ads we’ve captured here are just a very small fraction of the different ads that the Jones campaign are running.
That’s it for this week! In the meantime – see any interesting posts, emails, or texts about the pandemic from Senate candidates that we missed? Send us an email! You can also check out our previous issues on our website, and be sure to check out our online dashboard for a detailed breakdown of candidates’ digital spending.