By reputable accounts President Donald Trump is spending more than $1 million a month on Facebook advertising in preparation for his re-election bid.
He may well be spending more on other platforms. We just don’t know since there are no legally mandated reporting structure for online ad buys for federal elections.
The spend and the mystery about spending has his potential opponents flipping out. But hand wringing isn’t really productive. Trump opponents as well as those hoping to emulate him might take a bit of a lesson here – before it gets too painful.
To start, there’s a bit of legacy thinking going on here. In the past, spending a lot on TV – or saying you’re spending a lot on TV – early means your campaign doesn’t have a money problem. And money for TV means you’re well positioned to win.
That’s not necessarily the case with online advertising, especially the kind of “lead generation” advertising that Trump Campaign Manager Brad Parscale says he’s conducting. It’s also possible that $1 million/month on Facebook means that the data collection and message validation operations aren’t working as well as they have in the past.
It’s also worth remembering that the ads running now are not persuasion or calls to specific action. They’re for fundraising and collecting information about potential supporters – regardless of party or status. Ads are being used to do message validation against specific demographics and locations, not against pre-bought list of known voters.
He’s not shy about it either. In this “Face the Nation” interview Brad Parscale spelled out – again – what he’s doing Here’s the – literal – money quote:
“We’re spending millions of dollars a month, light years ahead of any campaign in history, to build the foundation of who we need to market to, what we need to understand, what we need to say to them and how to exactly deliver to them.”
He’s exaggerating; former President Obama’s campaign did something similar when Facebook and online advertising was a political novelty (and a whole lot cheaper). But the motives were the same: Message validation is part and parcel of every digital brand advertising campaign. And it’s why message validation should be a bigger and early part of every political campaign for every candidate across several platforms – not just Facebook or Twitter.
Spot-On calls this service “incumbent protection”. It’s a good way for those in office to keep in touch with the voters who elected them AND learn more about how those voters see their elected officials.
An incumbent protection plan can provide a political campaign with information about platform preferences – not just tried and true Facebook video and YouTube but banner ads targeted to specific local outlets, on streaming video and audio targeted to demographics, all looking at performance and messaging. So when it’s crunch-time – voters are out and interested – the campaign is ready to go with strategies it knows will work.
Do older women in Michigan respond to messages on immigration or are they more interested in health care? Do young men in Ohio engage with ads about guns owners’ rights or do they react to immigration messages? Do you really find young people in your district on Hulu? Or does YouTube work better? Facebook does well with older women but is Spotify a good investment for younger potential voters? What about voters’ general concerns. Do you know what they are and how they may change between now and November 2020? If you could find out – quickly and cheaply – would you do it?
You can. You should. And it won’t cost millions of dollars. An effective campaign can be run at any level of political engagement for costs suited to a campaign budget that breaks away from ‘silver bullet’ thinking to truly reach across the panoply of local news offerings in city, town or state.