Article

Maridsa Choute
Maridsa Choute 16 November 2020

Marketing Strategies and Spend of the 2020 Presidential Race

As one of the most expensive elections in US history, we broke down how each campaign is spending their money for digital and virtual strategies.

The Biden and Trump campaigns have spent large sums on marketing throughout this election, but they have diverted that money to different places, with different messages. We have the breakdown on how they've spent their money on digital strategies. 

They were simultaneously in a race to raise as much money as possible, while also staying organized and recruiting volunteers. Each candidate had a very different target demographic and tried their best to appeal to them accordingly.

The 2020 presidential race has made for the most expensive election in United States history with campaign spending collectively exceeding 10 billion dollars. At first, the pandemic prevented both candidates from making physical appearances.

However, Trump changed his tune and began holding in-person campaign rallies regularly. Biden’s campaign has maintained social distancing. To make up for this absence of physical representation, he has had to double down on digital marketing.

Spending in The Presidential Race

As a result, we were bombarded with political advertisements, all over the internet, in many different formats. From banner ads, tweets, and live streams to videos and tv ads, campaigns have expanded their reach into the view of nearly everyone at home. Unlike in 2016, when these types of ads just bolstered the presidential campaigns, they are now the star of the show.

  • Trump’s campaign has spent more on Facebook and Google campaign ads than Biden’s since April. Biden has spent $130 million, while Trump has spent $166 million. Google provides transparency reports that show how much a candidate has spent week to week, total, and the ads they have shown. Biden has spent nearly an identical amount to Trump on Google. 
  • Biden’s campaign has more money, with a heaping $177 million. Trump’s campaign has been less successful in their fundraising and has significantly less money on hand, with a mere $63 million (end of September totals).
  • In this presidential race, the Biden campaign has outspent the Trump campaign on Facebook ads, with just over $8 million spent since April of 2019. Trump has spent much less, at $5.61 million spent since January of 2017.

Trump's campaign is making fundraising a priority. Meanwhile Biden is strategizing on how to spend his generous coffers on what will provide him the best results on election day.

Biden unleashed a barrage of new online campaign ads on Google and Facebook to catch up with Trump’s past ad advantage. Trump got desperate and used taxpayer dollars to market in multiple thinly veiled ways like an $8 billion dollar drug discount card program, that includes prominent Trump branding. 

Website

  • Both Trump and Biden have official campaign websites and separate fundraising pages. 
  • Trump’s fundraising page is very colorful, uses terminology like “Join Operation MAGA” to entice donations, and threatens the good economy will disappear if Biden wins. 
  • Biden’s Fundraising page  is far less flashy and lacks any threats, but has a hopeful message that promises to rebuild the nation. 
  • Biden’s campaign website immediately presents you with a pop-up that encourages you to donate to reach their 100 million dollar, end of October goal. Once you get into the website, donations are clearly still a focus. There are also many links to volunteer and on how to vote. 
  • Trump’s website also has an immediate pop-up, that instead encourages site visitors to donate in order to win a signed convention star from the President himself. Trump’s website is similar in layout to Biden’s, with an emphasis on contributing to the campaign and voting.

Both of the candidate’s websites are largely the same. They both have a similarly easy to navigate layout, with links to volunteer, how to vote, contact, and find more media. Their websites also share a noticeable red button to donate in the upper right hand corner of both pages. Everyone is attracted to a big red button apparently. 

Virtual Communication

  • Slack is a chat room and direct message service for businesses and organizations to communicate. Joe Biden’s campaign has been utilizing Slack for organization, especially for volunteers. Biden’s campaign slack has over 15 channels, and can be easily joined from their website. 
  • Trump’s campaign also uses slack, but doesn’t have public access. We only know of its use by the campaign from bills in their latest federal election commission filing
  • Zoom is a much bigger part of the Biden campaign to replace in-person meetings. The Trump campaign still is organizing volunteers in person. 
  • Biden also utilized Zoom beyond just volunteer organizing, but also to attract donations. His campaign successfully used Zoom for high profile virtual fundraising events that proved very profitable. A single event could raise over $1.5 million and Biden did over 20 of them. 
  • This election has also become “the texting election”. Trump’s campaign alone will have sent out over a billion texts by election day. Texting is cheap, something most American’s can receive, and texts are rarely ignored. 

Throughout this presidential race, both candidates have been forced to do more digital communication and meetings since the start of the pandemic. And the Biden campaign has fully embraced the digital approach.

By sticking to digital, Biden has possibly risked better publicity in return for public health safety. Trump is still utilizing an “on the ground” strategy familiar with Obama’s campaign.

Social Media

  • Both candidates are active on Twitter, though Trump is the clear winner here with 87 million followers while Biden has a mere 11.4 million.
  • The candidates also both use Youtube with Trump having over 1.5 million followers and Biden having just under 400 thousand. Both the Biden and Trump campaigns use Youtube frequently to livestream content and post other videos like TV ads or clips from speeches. 
  • Biden and Trump also both utilize Instagram and Facebook. Biden has 5.3 million Instagram followers and Trump has 22.8 million followers. Trump has over 32 million on Facebook while Biden trails far behind at only 3.6 million. 

On the surface, it may seem Trump has clearly dominated the social media game (with a big head start), but his online engagement has slowly declined, while Biden’s has slowly inclined. Biden’s campaign may be the real winner here, making the most of his much smaller following. 

Merchandise

Merchandise is possibly more important in this campaign than ever before. This presidential race has presented each campaign with unique opportunities to sell merchandise. Trump has set the bar high with his red hats. Biden’s merch team is trying to fight back through any means necessary, even with branded hand sanitizer and fly swatters.

Television

  • As far as television goes, Biden’s campaign has focused on state specific ads. His campaign set aside over $16 million, while nationwide ads get a measly $77,000. Trump’s campaign has it flipped, spending just over $3 million on state ads, and $14.4 million on national ads. 
  • Trump’s television ads are far more negative, with 80% involving critique of his opponent and contrasting himself against the criticisms. Biden’s campaign ads 60% of the time use contrast, and only 7% of the time are plain negative.
  • Nine out of every ten dollars spent on television ads during this campaign season has gone to only six battleground states. The campaigns funnelled most of their money towards Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Arizona. Biden has majority support in all of these swing states. Swing states change every year. Generally the candidates focus their efforts on these states to gain favor and avoid losses come election day. These states can make or break an election result for a candidate. 

The candidates invested heavily in television ads at near equal amounts. However, each has taken different routes with the ad content and where the money is spent. They both have focused their money in a couple key swing states. The hope there is that the extra ad money in a state like Florida will tip the election result in their favor. 

Biden vs. Trump Advertising Approaches in The Presidential Race

The key takeaways from the two campaign strategies is the focus on urgency and choosing togetherness or a team. Biden’s campaign has emphasized coming together as a nation to recognize the importance and urgency of this election. Their recent “Go From There” ad, narrated by Sam Elliot, drove home the idea that we should “choose to take on problems, and not each other." Another recent ad “Keep Up” emphasized that there is hope, saying “our best days are ahead". These ads still alluded to Trump being a “tyrant” and a threat. These ads embody Biden’s softer approach that emphasizes being a team, but without forgetting to note the threat Trump poses to America. 

Trump’s ads are generally more aggressive and less in the scope of togetherness. His campaign ads represent his “America First” Policy. They enforce the idea that if a vote for Biden is a vote for the establishment, and that Trump isn’t the establishment. His ads imply that if Biden wins, America loses. He makes it clear that if you vote for him, you are voting to “Make America Great Again.”

Trump’s recent ad “America First,” makes sure to get across all these ideas, and aims the responsibility on the viewer, saying “this moment is your moment, it belongs to you.” 

Overall

Both ad campaigns have cost many hundreds of millions and are highly patriotic representations of each candidate. Each campaign attacks their opponents through different means. An election year has never been this strange since the advent of television, let alone social media. 

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