Scoop: Inside the Trump campaign’s big hedge on Facebook

The Trump campaign has invested most of its advertising budget to date on Facebook, testing thousands of versions of ads per day to maximize its spending.

But behind the scenes, a source familiar with the campaign tells Axios, the thinking has shifted: “As everyone can see, we still have strong spending on Facebook, but the percentage of our total media budget [on Facebook] is shrinking.”

The big picture: Since the last election, it’s become obvious that all campaigns are at risk of the changing algorithms and policies at Facebook, or on any platform. People familiar with the Trump campaign described its thinking in detail to Axios.

  • Last fall, the campaign urged Facebook to keep the same tools for political advertisers that they make available to companies.

  • “Facebook wants to take important tools away from us for 2020. Tools that help us reach more great Americans & lift voices the media & big tech choose to ignore! They want to raise prices to put more of your hard earned small dollar donations into their pockets,” the campaign tweeted in November.

  • Facebook ultimately decided not to change its policies around microtargeting.

Details: Today, the campaign is testing new strategies on several dozen platforms, including YouTube, Google, ad exchanges, publisher networks and conservative podcasts. The goal is to be less dependent on Facebook — though the platform will still play a crucial role in the Trump 2020 strategy.

  • The Trump campaign began buying ads on conservative podcasts last spring, including shows hosted by staunch Trump allies Charlie Kirk and Laura Ingraham. The goal is to get Trump supporters more engaged in the months before Election Day.

  • “When you are quick, have speed, and money to spend, you need more levers — more places to pivot,” says one source familiar with the campaign. “Better expanding outside of Facebook allows that.”

  • “We’re trying out dozens of places where we can communicate with voters,” the source added. “Wherever that comes in an efficient way, we’ll spend more money on that.”

By the numbers: While the Trump campaign still spends big on Facebook ads, the percentage of its ad budget spent there has fallen significantly over the past few months, according to data from Advertising Analytics.

  • Facebook ads took up roughly 72% of the campaign’s ad budget in April 2019, and more than 50% for most of the year, per Advertising Analytics. As of mid-February, however, Facebook spending was just 14% of the ad budget.

  • The notable exception was during the impeachment trial in January, when the Trump campaign blitzed Facebook with ads to capitalize on donor outrage and support.

  • From January 19 to date, Trump for President and Trump’s Make America Great Again Committee have spent about $26 million on Facebook ads out of $58 million on all media spending, per Advertising Analytics.

Data: Advertising Analytics; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Advertising Analytics; Chart: Axios Visuals

The campaign is testing fewer messages on Facebook than it did for much of 2016.

  • In 2016, at peak, the Trump campaign used 40,000–50,000 ad variations per day, sometimes even testing more than 100,000 different versions of ads. The ad makers test thousands of small changes for things like font size and color to see what gets the most clicks.

  • The campaign now uses about half as many variations than at the same point in the 2016 cycle, sources say. The campaign expects to ramp up its testing in the summer.

  • The campaign has libraries of memes, short video clips and photos that are relevant to a host of news topics. If the news cycle turns to “the Deep State,” immigration or terrorism, the campaign has content ready to go.

  • “We have just terabytes of stuff of what we do for any situation,” said a source familiar with the campaign. “We are still producing multiple videos a day, and multiple images a day. I mean we have libraries and libraries and libraries of content.”

Between the lines: Facebook sells ads on a bidding platform, which makes them more expensive as Election Day nears and demand goes up.

  • Right now, the Trump campaign uses Facebook ads to drive sign-ups for its email and text alerts — forms of outreach that don’t get more expensive with time.

  • The campaign has several million people on its text list and tens of millions of people on its email list, according to two sources familiar with the lists.

Yes, but: The campaign still relies heavily on Facebook to gather voter data and raise money. And high-speed experimentation is the essence of its Facebook ad strategy.

  • Sometimes, the most successful ad variations are surprising.

  • A 2016 example: The campaign tested ads with a train that said “Join the TRUMP TRAIN.” One variant included flames around the text at the end, and it performed best. The experiment worked so well that they doubled down on it, even selling “Trump Train” stickers.

Speed is vital when testing ads. While the campaign still has a traditional creative approval process that runs through legal and political teams, it still moves fast by giving its digital team broad autonomy to build ads based on preapproved messaging.

The bottom line: Although Trump’s Facebook operation gets a lot of attention, a source familiar with the campaign told Axios, “We are more diversified than ever before. And far more than 2016.”

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20 thoughts on “Scoop: Inside the Trump campaign’s big hedge on Facebook”

  1. Just access Google for info on Sandy Hook Shooting. It clearly states in their wiki entry that Sandy Hook was absolute fact and if you believe otherwise you are Conspiracy theorist [a CIA created term.] and therefore a wacko nutcase.


    The wiki page in my reference sounds like something straight out of Nazi Germany and other totalitarian states.

      1. So when you search for SH on Chrome, that comes up that correct?
        Seems to be another example of ‘Goggle’ manipulating search results.
        Glad I use Mozilla and Linux OS and DuckDuckGo

      2. No.
        There are many ways to search for Sandy Hook on google and other search engines.
        If you want ”conspiracy” about Sandy Hook, you must google those exact words in your search.
        Type……”Sandy Hook Conspiracy” in your search field box. That’s how I got the Ref page above.

        Most search engines use google as their feed. I believe DuckDuckGo is a google creation.

  2. I need Google to advertise and run my mobile and internet (it used to be phone book ads and a landline, then a brick mobile, now a mobile where basically the phone bit is just one of the functions, camera text we browsing timer alarm etc etc.) I would not touch Facebook comments get you in court etc. I would not bother with Twitter etc either.

    1. I am old enough to remember life without this stuff. But now the illegal immigrants who are kept on the islands etc go on the news saying they have no internet, like it was food or something. I guess the Aboriginals call us Ausie’s illegals, and they my history teacher took me aside and told me (and have read it in the newspapers) they took it from the Tasmanian Aboriginals 60000 years ago. I always laugh when the news says “man found alive after three nights in the bush”, I think Aboriginals “found alive” after 60000 years in the bush”.

    2. BillAu…All due respect….but I would venture to say that ‘need’ is a convenience you could likely do without by thinking outside the box. “Convenience ” is killing our ability to think creatively and outside the mainstream. Years ago, pre- Internet, I had a gourmet restaurant in Charlottesville, Va.. I put the place together with spit and glue and could not afford any advertising in newspapers, or even radio. So, I had a young lady walk around the downtown mall carrying what in those days we called a ‘sandwich board’…advertising specials at the cafe. That young lady brought in more business than anything else I tried.

  3. This is only my opinion…obviously….and I’ll likely be very isolated in my stand. Facebook, Google and all social media should not be allowed to run political ads. The possibility of manipulation by these media colossals (which are predominantly leftist) is far too prevalent. The midterm election proved this beyond a doubt.

      1. Seems I am not so alone in my thoughts,
        Thanks, Dr., I had not seen that report. As many here know, I do not use cells, Google (IF that’s possible…at least i do not use it knowingly), social media et al. I do not even have a TV.
        I honestly think many, if not most of us would be better off without them.
        It may not be long, if we continue on this path, before not participating will be an imprisonable offense.

      2. Here’s the most important take-away from that address to CONgress:

        …….to declare Google’s massive search index the database the company uses to generate search results to BE A PUBLIC COMMONS ACCESSIBLE BY ALL just as the 1956 consent degree forced AT&T to share all its patents. So, there is a precedent in both law and Google’s own business practices to justify taking this step.
        Me:…So what is the CONgress waiting for? What has changed since 1956 that makes this move infeasible? Hmm…could it be the Zionists have even MORE POWER now than AT&T had to protect those of their tribe?

      3. I usually agree with Turley’s take on many subjects….BUT, it seems he’s fallen for Zuckerberg’s manipulation of the narrative by framing any control of Google as an attack on free speech. Again, the tribes favorite trick is to accuse the opposition of exactly what they are doing. It’s not a question of stopping social media from expressing their free speech. It IS a question of Google’s MANIPULATING access to information. How Turley refuses to see this is quite disappointing.

      4. You would like the “exclusive brethren” they do not use the media. I did a soil test for one. He would not associate with normal people as much as you can, actually that is what the Bible says, but I am not a “Christian” in the normal sense of the word. I believe in God and the golden rule.

      5. BillAu…Thank you, but I’ll pass on ‘the brethren’. I have come to realize that any organized ‘religion’, club or belief system benefits itself only….and passes crumbs to its participants while enriching its higher echelon. Take the Vatican as an example. Can we possibly imagine what all that gold in their vaults could do to help humanity instead of siting there gathering dust?
        My beef with tech is that instead of being used as a tool, it has come to run our lives to the same extent of any addictive drug. What could have been an amazing benefit to mankind has become a monster that monopolizes our existence.

    1. Most of my current work is word of mouth and old customers, or customers of customers who have retired etc. The Google clicks are often my opponents probably, the the clicks get my website to come up on the first page of the ad. You have to watch Google, they blame the computer, I even got a refund of $30. The computer charged me $30 for a click worth $3.

  4. Now I have fixed it up, I got back my bid limit. Without the bid limit they can charge four times your daily limit on ONE click (and TWO times if it is a standard campaign). So my new add was today doing nearly double my daily spend on one click, and the other day three times. Caveat emptor (buyer beware).


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