FWIW: Opportunist-in-Chief

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8 mins read

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. 

Last week, our belligerent child of a President took the country to the brink of war with Iran after the sudden assassination of a top Iranian military leader. As the situation escalated, Trump’s campaign immediately went to work to use his Commander-in-Chief optics for political gain, running hundreds of online ads and blasting out text messages to supporters. How is the recent Iran crisis playing out online? We take a look.

But first… 

2020, by the numbers

Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has spent over $35 million on Facebook + Google since the 2018 midterm elections. On Monday, his campaign launched a wave of acquisition ads thanking himself for the military strike that killed an Iranian general. More on that below. 

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has continued to ramp up his spending on Facebook and Google, and Julián Castro endorsed Elizabeth Warren in a video uploaded to social media before joining her in her famed “selfie” lines on the trail.

Pete Buttigieg’s campaign has bet its strategy heavily on the early states, and this week the Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire reported on their hyper-local touch with the savvy roll-out of a Keene-specific YouTube ad. 

On the billionaire front, two new polls out last night found Tom Steyer’s campaign to be in second place in South Carolina and third in Nevada. The New York Times called it “startling” which, given this week’s startling news cycle, is significant. 

The New York Times also reported this week that Michael Bloomberg has purchased a 60-second television ad during the Superbowl, which likely cost upwards of $11 million. For context, that’s more than Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders have each spent online all cycle. That ad better be good, Mike. No pressure.  

In other news, we’ve started digging deeper into the political Snapchat ads archive, and we’ll continue to share spending numbers as the election heats up. Typically, campaigns and organizations don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the platform to reach their intended audiences – but we noticed that Michael Bloomberg’s campaign did so anyway. He became the top spending candidate on Snapchat in just the last two weeks of 2019.

Here’s a look at the cumulative Facebook + Google investment for the top spending Democratic candidates for President:

With less than a month to go before the caucuses, these are the top 5 spenders on Facebook in Iowa over the past 7 days.

…and here are the top political ad spenders on Facebook + Google last week.

Meanwhile, at Facebook… 

Yesterday, Facebook made a long-awaited announcement that they would not ban political advertising or limit campaigns’ targeting abilities on their platform, and would instead expand their Ad Library in the interest of providing increased transparency into political advertising. We consider that to be the right decision and a big win (especially for progressives & non-incumbents), but want to be crystal clear that the largely unregulated, powerful corporation has still failed to address the immeasurable spread of misinformation on their platform.

They can and should start by acknowledging that their platform is in fact a space where tens of millions of people get their news and immediately reverse their insane decision to allow politicians like Trump to run ads with blatantly false content and lies. Mark, our DMs are open. 

Deep Dive: Opportunist-in-Chief  

Trump dominated the news cycle this week by bringing our country closer to the brink of war with Iran. The crisis didn’t just play out on cable and in print – groups on both sides of the aisle, including the President’s re-election campaign, began advertising and rallying support for their side online. 

We first noticed on Tuesday that Trump had begun running hundreds of Facebook ads congratulating himself for the military operation that killed Iranian Gen. Qassim Suleimani:

After our brilliant data team 🤓 did some deep digging into Facebook’s Ad Library API, we can now estimate that from January 3rd – 9th, the Trump campaign spent just around $52,550 on 1,019 different variations of Iran-related Facebook ads. Many of those ads are still running, so that number will increase in the coming days. 

The Trump campaign is clearly relying on these ads to persuade or remind his own supporters that Donald Trump is a strong, tough Commander-in-Chief. We know the reality is quite different though, as he’s more often on the golf course or tweeting from bed while eating McDonalds, but we also know the truth means very little to him – or many of his most loyal supporters.

The marketing workflow of these ads first direct supporters to an ‘Official Trump Military Survey’, which asks crass questions like “Do you think President Trump has been more effective at combating ISIS than Barack Obama was?” and then re-directs those who complete the survey to a unique donate page.

BUT it isn’t just the Trump campaign beginning to advertise on the issue. Progressive movement groups also quickly sprang into action online to advocate against any war with Iran:

FWIW, here’s how much groups on both sides of the issues have spent on Facebook ads around the Iran crisis since January 3rd. [Note: These numbers will continue to increase as many ads are still active] 

It’s notable that Tulsi Gabbard is the only Democratic presidential candidate to advertise on Facebook with ads mentioning “Iran” or “Soleimani” in the past week. Maybe it’s not surprising though, as a big part of her schtick has always been “ending regime change wars” in the Middle East. 

One more thing… 🤳

That’s all for FWIW this week! But before you go, we have one more ask of you! We’re trying to recruit the best + brightest to join our team, so if you know any talented, passionate geniuses, send them our way! Oh, and forward this email to a friend, and follow us on Twitter!


Originally posted on Acronym. Re-posted with permission.


DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.


ACRONYM is a nonprofit organization committed to building power and digital infrastructure for the progressive movement.

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