2020 The Sequel: Dark Brandon Rises
The President starts his re-election bid with a digital campaign machine that makes his opponents look amateur
President Biden officially launched his 2024 re-election bid on Tuesday with a buzzy web video and an online fundraising blitz. The campaign launch, initially billed by the political press to be a “low-key” affair, was intended to accomplish a few things: (1) quiet the annoying speculation that Biden wouldn’t run again, (2) allow the Biden team to start building aggressively towards next year, and (3) raise tons of money. So how did they do?
We’ll break it down in this week’s FWIW. But first…
By the numbers
FWIW, political advertisers spent $6.89 million on Facebook and Instagram ads last week. These were the top ten spenders nationwide:
Never Back Down, a Super PAC supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential bid, is running a slew of new Facebook ads targeting the early-nominating states of Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Nevada. The ads call Donald Trump a “gun-grabber” and claim that DeSantis’ “backbone was forged in steel,” whatever that means.
Meanwhile, political advertisers spent a limited amount - just over $510,000 - on Google and YouTube ads last week. Here were the top ten spenders nationwide:
CA Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Campaign for Democracy PAC was the top spender on Google & YouTube ads nationwide last week. 🙄 Here’s a sample of what he’s running >>
The Center Forward Foundation is running YouTube ads supporting Republican House members for standing up to China, and the group’s affiliate, Center Forward, is doing the same for a handful of House Democrats.
…and here are the top spending political advertisers on Snapchat year-to-date:
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From around the internet
Democratic fundraising giant ActBlue released a new report detailing contributions through its platform in Q1 of this year. Democrats raised 24.7% more cash in Q1 of this year than in Q1 2019 - the last equivalent point in a presidential cycle. See the numbers here >>
It’s been a long week: Far-right extremist Tucker Carlson is out at FOX News. It’s an earthquake for the cable news industry and for FOX’s ongoing internal drama, which is basically the plot of Succession irl.
Silly Season: California’s *2026* gubernatorial election has officially begun, with Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis launching her campaign for the Golden State’s top job. Only in America!
Montana Sen. Jon Tester horsed around with Sen. Cory Booker for a fundraising video, and someone’s office now requires some drywall repair.
FWIW, here’s how much money likely or confirmed 2024 presidential candidates have spent on Facebook + Google ads to date (1/1 - 4/22):
Former Texas Congressman Will Hurd is reportedly considering a presidential run, and he’s got the digital ads to prove it.
Asa Hutchinson kicked off his presidential campaign from Bentonville, Arkansas on Wednesday, but he’s got a long way to go to build an audience.
2020 The Sequel: Dark Brandon Rises
President Biden officially launched his 2024 re-election bid on Tuesday with a buzzy web video and an online fundraising blitz. The campaign launch, initially billed by the political press to be a “low-key” affair, was intended to accomplish a few things: (1) quiet the annoying speculation that Biden wouldn’t run again, (2) allow the Biden team to start building aggressively towards next year, and (3) raise tons of money. So how did they do? Let’s break it down:
At 6:00 am ET on the dot, the President’s political accounts on social media posted this three-minute video focused on defending freedom and democracy, while attacking the “extremist MAGA agenda.”
The video was polished and formatted for several different social media platforms (i.e. vertical on Instagram), which is a must in the year of our-lord 2023. It was directed by former WH videographers Drew Heskett and Jonathan Hebert, who worked with a team of editors and designers to pull it all together.
In the first 24 hours post-launch, the video racked up 11 million views across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube - a strong start by any metric. Here’s how those views were distributed by platform:
By contrast, Nikki Haley’s launch video earned around 3 million views, and Tim Scott’s exploratory committee announcement landed just shy of 500,000. Donald Trump did not post a video on mainstream social media networks when he launched his campaign.
While the video was meant to generate some hype among Biden’s supporters and the mainstream media, his digital operation was laser-focused on having a big day-one of fundraising. Immediately following the video’s release, a small-dollar fundraising operation largely run out of the Democratic National Committee began aggressively pushing out email appeals, fundraising texts, and hundreds of digital ads.
On Tuesday alone, the Biden Victory Fund spent $223,809 on Facebook and Instagram ads, and $114,000 on Google ads to try to recruit new small-dollar donors. That’s far more than any Republican candidate or potential candidate has spent on digital ads in a one-day period this year.
Biden’s launch also brought along a slight brand re-fresh for the campaign, with an updated logo, new design elements, and some “dark brandon” campaign merch. Earlier this week,at published a newsletter taking a close look at the new Biden/Harris brand.
Close observers won’t be surprised that the design overhaul was led by Robyn Kanner, a leading political designer on the Left who served as Senior Creative Advisor on the 2020 Biden campaign.
The only number that matters
As we’ve said before, the success of campaign launches is typically judged by how much money they’re able to bring in. Surprisingly, as of this writing, the Biden campaign has not revealed how much they raised on Tuesday - a not-so-great sign. ⚠️ (The web version of this story will be updated as soon as that changes.)
Bloomberg reported late last night that the reason for this may not be small-dollar enthusiasm, but a lack of a coordinated major-donor outreach operation on Tuesday.
In fact, Tim Tagaris, a leading Democratic digital strategist and founder of Aisle 518, created a pretty innovative tool to guess how much money the campaign would rake in from online donors on Day One. His final estimates had them landing shy of $4 million raised on ActBlue, which isn’t far off from Biden’s small-dollar raise four years ago.
On Tuesday, we were struck that the Trump campaign largely failed to respond to Biden’s launch, instead focusing its attacks on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. It took them a day and a half to release a web video criticizing Biden for all the predictable hits.
Meanwhile, the RNC responded to the President’s launch with a video depicting a dystopian future if Biden wins re-election. Instead of stock footage, the RNC’s team decided to use AI-generated stills - of homelessness, hordes of scary immigrants, war, and even Biden himself. The whole point of this, of course, was to generate press for the RNC on Biden’s big day, and AXIOS’ Alex Thompson was happy to oblige by running with the SCOOP.
As an earned-media play, the RNC was very clever to throw the letters “A.I.” into a press release and understand the legacy political press would pounce. They get points for thinking outside the box, for sure. But as a logical rebuttal to the President’s re-election, the video failed miserably: if Biden’s America really is a dystopian hellscape, why would you have to create fake AI footage to illustrate that? Aren’t there real-world images and examples to point to?
This campaign is going to be a long slog to next November, and Biden donors were recently told that cumulative efforts to re-elect the President will cost upwards of $2 billion dollars.
Despite the lack of transparency around their Day One fundraising, it appears that the campaign possesses a well-oiled digital machine that checks all the right boxes and is currently where it needs to be. Next year’s election will be obviously determined by a myriad of factors outside of the Biden campaign’s control, but having a solid digital start on day one will give them a foundation to communicate to voters where they spend their time - online.
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