Trump's 2016 Digital-Ad Mastermind Is Now Working to Defeat Him - 2020-04-28
As coronavirus forces 2020 campaigns to shift almost entirely online, the progressive organization Acronym is attempting to correct the digital-advertising mistakes Democrats made the last time around. Donald Trump's campaign has historically harnessed a masterful social media messaging strategy, relying on a huge quantity of simplistic ads over quality. In 2016, the Trump campaign dwarfed competitors' social media operations by running nearly six million Facebook ads. While the social media site has limited some of the more intrusive and controversial advertising capabilities that Trump used to secure victory, his campaign is not looking to slow down its Facebook footprint in the race. Campaign manager Brad Parscale last year predicted a digital-ad budget of up to $500 million. Acronym is trying to bring Democrats up to speed by implementing a similar strategy—with the help of the same former Facebook employee who helped Trump to victory.
"The thing that Facebook does really well, and the thing that I learned pretty extensively at Facebook, is how to measure things," said James Barnes, an Acronym staffer who was nicknamed by the Trump campaign as an "MVP" for his digital efforts, in an interview with the New York Times. (Barnes was a Facebook employee embedded with the campaign in 2016; he left the social media giant in 2019). "As I considered what I wanted to do after Facebook as I went through sort of this political transformation, I wanted to know: What is the best way that I could contribute to help defeat Trump in 2020?" While a Facebook tool Barnes used to measure the effectiveness of Trump's messaging no longer exists—the platform removed the "brand lift" function for political advertisers after backlash for its handling of the 2016 election—he has helped develop a similar tool for Acronym to use in their 2020 ads.
In five key battleground states—Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—Acronym is running an in-depth political survey to find voters who might be persuaded into opposing Trump in November. If the respondents appear receptive, ads from Pacronym, the super PAC tied to Acronym, and a second data-gathering survey will begin to populate on their timelines. "What's felt impossible in the past is to test the real-world effect of ads of people who actually saw them, on an ongoing, consistent basis. And what we did was to develop a way to do this on Facebook," Acronym's lead data scientist Solomon Messing told the Times. The process involves grouping together a potential audience, presenting them with the first survey to gauge their political knowledge and leanings, targeting half of respondents with ads, introducing a follow-up survey to the whole group, and, finally, combing through responses for voter feedback and adjusting ads accordingly. The group's main targets include low-information voters. "When folks have just kind of a lower baseline of information, we actually can persuade them by just showing them more of the information that's true," said Barnes.