AdExchanger Politics: On The Defensive, Donald Trump Revs Up His Ad Machine

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Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is shifting into high gear now that Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee. That means a huge tide of paid media is on its way.

For three years, the Trump team has built a campaign “Death Star,” campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted last month. “In a few days we start pressing FIRE for the first time.”

But the president’s campaign is playing a defensive game as he faces attack ads and polling declines over his handling of the coronavirus crisis, said one conservative media consultant.

“Unlike 2016, when the focus was on identifying and turning out natural Trump voters, you’ll see more of an effort to depress Biden’s chances with who he needs to show up big to win: suburban women and black people,” he said.

Last month, the Trump campaign’s advertising investment with Google shot up to $645,000 per day, almost on par with its spend in November 2018, the midterm election.

The focus up until now has been on fundraising, but that’s changing. In late May, a search and YouTube campaign about Biden’s crime bills from the ’90s targeted seven battleground states – Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Arizona.

A single-digit swing among black voters, either to vote Trump or to not vote at all, would be enough for the president to defend 2016 wins in states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and thus secure reelection, said one Republican digital media buyer whose firm works for the Trump campaign.

The Trump campaign also stepped up its Facebook advertising in the past month. From May 23 to May 25 the president spent more than $100,000, more than on any other Facebook campaign this year, to promote a post on mass incarceration in the same seven battleground states that it targeted on Google.

The majority of people who saw the ad were women, and two-thirds were older than 45.

In 2016, the Trump campaign ran “dark post” campaigns visible only to black people on Facebook, which featured snippets from Hillary Clinton talking about crime in the 1990s. Facebook no longer allows dark posts or targeting based on race, but there are still very different messages and tones between broad national messages to conservatives and state-based campaigns where Trump is playing defense.

The Trump campaign has homed in on Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Arizona – Trump won all seven in 2016 – with added budgets and liberal critiques of Biden to stifle enthusiasm.

Simultaneously, the campaign’s conservative messaging in other states has remained consistent.

“Dangerous MOBS of far-left groups are running through our streets and causing absolute mayhem. They are DESTROYING our cities and rioting – it’s absolute madness,” according to one Facebook post by the president, which the campaign has spent more to promote than any other non-ecommerce Facebook ad so far this month. The ad was seen in all 50 states, and more than 60% of those impressions were served to men.

Meanwhile Priorities USA, the largest liberal super PAC and the quasi-official partner of the Biden campaign, is spending big in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida and Arizona to put Trump on the defensive.

“Priorities will continue to tell the truth about Donald Trump and meet voters where they are on TV and digital platforms. The Trump campaign is scared because our ads are working,” Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil said in a press release on May 29.

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With the loss of rallies, volunteer events and door-to-door canvassing, political agencies and media buyers are preparing for larger addressable media campaigns.

The crisis is spurring campaigns to start with an “audience-first approach” to persuasion advertising on TV and digital media. The strategy is critical this year without direct, real-world engagements with supporters and party members, said Sarah Fagen, CEO of the conservative media agency and mar tech provider Deep Root Analytics.

Instead of buying TV ads with a separate agency, Fagen said campaigns are identifying 10,0000 to 20,000 key potential voters or supporters on a certain issue within a given district. They then create video messages targeting that particular segment. It’s a tactic reminiscent of platforms such as Google and Facebook, but applied to OTT platforms and linear TV, she said.

She said Deep Root has partnered with Tru Optik, the OTT and CTV ad tech company, to improve its visibility into addressable video inventory.

Partnerships like this are critical for reaching key demos including young men, Fagen said. Those audiences are hard to target in other channels, even online, since they often block ads or over-index to ad-free streaming media.

In 2016, Tru Optik made a similar deal with TargetSmart, a liberal advertising and analytics shop.

“But, surprisingly, Republican campaigns this year have been much more active and aggressive in curating audience-based targeting profiles across connected TVs and streaming than Democrats,” said Tru Optik CEO Andre Swanston.

Democrats could be spending larger portions of their budgets on linear, which Tru Optik doesn’t track, or on other non-addressable buys, he said.

“It’s not what I expected, after the Clinton campaign in 2016 was asleep at the wheel when it came to data-driven targeting in these channels,” he said. “Republicans are spending much more – not up 20% or 30%, but multiple times more – on profile-based targeted campaigns than Democrats are.”

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