Meatball Ron is finally on the menu
Here are 5 things you need to know about the DeSantis campaign’s rollercoaster digital launch
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On Tuesday, news broke that Ron DeSantis would announce his campaign not via a rally with supporters or a set of round-robin media interviews, but by sharing an audio-only Twitter Space with Elon Musk. It was a curious choice that turned out to be a total technical disaster, but despite the way it unfolded online, the campaign’s launch brought in a colossal amount of money.
In this week’s FWIW, I’ll share five things you should know about Ron DeSantis’ digital launch. But first…
By the numbers
FWIW, political advertisers spent just over $6.6 million on Facebook and Instagram ads last week. These were the top ten spenders nationwide:
For the fourth week in a row, the Biden campaign was the top-spending political advertiser nationwide on Facebook and Instagram. Their team continues to lean heavily on the platforms for growing their network of grassroots donors.
Meanwhile, political advertisers spent $766,300 on Google and YouTube ads last week. Here were the top ten spenders nationwide:
The Democratic National Committee was the top-spending political advertiser on Google/YouTube last week nationwide, spending around $81,400 attacking Republicans on the debt ceiling + using footage from Trump's CNN town hall. This video ad is specifically targeting swing congressional districts across the country.
Likewise, the top conservative advertiser on Google’s platforms last week was the American Action Network, a group that supports Congressional Republicans. One of AAN’s YouTube ads targeting DC accused President Biden of threatening to “cripple the economy” over the debt ceiling negotiations.
Political advertisers in the United States have spent around $800,000 on Snapchat advertising in 2023. Here are the top ten spenders YTD:
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From around the internet
I spoke about FWIW and tracking the online political space with Democratic strategist Josh Klemons on his new podcast, Hello Merge Tag. You can listen to our conversation here or on Spotify / Apple Podcasts.
In 2016, over 70 percent of all households with a TV had cable or satellite TV subscriptions. Today that number is under 40 percent… Read about the “looming existential crisis for cable news” at the Washington Post >>
Democratic relational organizing firm Relentless has launched a new tech platform called Rally to help campaigns run relational programs and reach voters. The tool was beta-tested across seven battleground states in 2022 and is part of the party’s efforts to invest in relational outreach tactics in the lead-up to 2024.
FWIW, here’s how much money likely or confirmed 2024 presidential candidates have spent on Facebook + Google ads to date (1/1 - 5/20):
AXIOS asked the Biden campaign if they were considering joining Truth Social. The answer won’t surprise you. 😂
Tim Scott reportedly raised $2 million in the first 24 hours after his campaign’s “official” launch on Monday. This was technically his campaign’s second launch in two months - he kicked off an “exploratory committee” in early April
Asa Hutchinson’s affiliated group, America Strong & Free Action, is running new Facebook ads to get the former Arkansas Gov. on the debate stage
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum will announce he’s running for President at a rally June 7th in Fargo.
Meatball Ron is finally on the menu
On Tuesday, news broke that Ron DeSantis would announce his campaign not via a rally with supporters or a set of round-robin media interviews, but by sharing an audio-only Twitter Space with billionaires Elon Musk and David Sacks. It was a curious choice that turned out to be a total technical disaster, but despite the way it unfolded online, the campaign’s launch brought in a colossal amount of money.
Here are five things you should know about Ron DeSantis’ digital launch:
#1. Is this thing on?
Ahead of Wednesday night, I actually thought the Twitter Spaces thing could be an interesting move to whip the elite media into a frenzy, while still being able to reach conservative voters via traditional methods like a FOX News hit, polished video, and rally later in the week.
I was wrong. The thing was a total disaster for both DeSantis and Musk, and will be a moment long remembered in the history of political campaign launches. Around 600,000 people joined the stream initially, but after 20 minutes of epic failure, the first Twitter Space was ended and another was started with a fraction of the audience. “Failure to Launch” “Crashed” and #DeSaster trended nationwide.
It became a distraction from whatever campaign messages DeSantis wanted to get out, and more importantly, it drove loads of negative media coverage in both mainstream and far-right outlets alike.
#2. What is this website, even?
DeSantis’ Twitter Spaces event and the ensuing media coverage weren’t the only things that were a little rocky: the campaign’s website is currently kind of a mess. RonDeSantis.com looks to be straight out of the MySpace days of the internet, with blocky content and some weird glitches loading the main page. In terms of converting visitors to donors or sign-ups, it lacks any prominent pop-up donate buttons or an easy-to-fill sign-up form.
I’m kind of assuming that the actual website wasn’t ready in time, and someone decided to spin this one up instead. It looks nicer and more functional on mobile - which is important - but it’s not difficult to create a site that functions well on desktop too.
The website links to a merch store, which at least checks a box. However, while DeSantis’ old campaign merch store used to hawk a variety of creative, Florida-themed items, this one leaves much to be desired. I’ll give his team a few bonus points for one thing: yesterday afternoon they pushed out a set of “DeSantis Breaks Systems” items alluding to Wednesday’s Twitter screw-up “breaking the internet.”
#3. Racking up millions of views
If the Twitter launch and website were a little rough, interest in DeSantis’ launch video was a bright spot for the campaign. It was well-produced and has been seen by millions of people across major social media platforms.
The video deploys relatable messaging like “restoring sanity to our society and normalcy to our communities” and DeSantis’ recent tagline: “[America’s] decline is a choice.” According to AXIOS, the video also used some fake fighter jets to make DeSantis seem cooler, which is “the latest instance of political ads including digitally altered videos…making it difficult for viewers to discern what’s real.”
On Twitter, the video received 23.8 million impressions already, compared to 2.9 million impressions on Tim Scott’s April 12th launch video, and 9.1 million impressions on Nikki Haley’s February 14th launch video. President Joe Biden’s launch video received 44.8 million impressions. Note: Twitter recently eliminated public view counts for videos on its platform, so these numbers reflect the amount people who saw the video tweet in their feeds.
The video also received 125,000 views on Facebook, 1.9 million views on Instagram, and 236,000 views on Rumble. It’s a strong showing by any measure.
#4. Social media starting lines
DeSantis enters the race with an above-average-sized owned audience across his campaign’s social media platforms, although on Facebook and Instagram, DeSantis has never received an outsized amount of audience engagement on his posts.
Notably, DeSantis’ presidential campaign Facebook page has fewer followers than his non-Trump rivals like Tim Scott (675k followers) and Nikki Haley (725k followers). Over the past six months, his posts have received 527,000 interactions compared to Scott’s 1.4 million and Haley’s 803,000.
#5. Despite it all, he raised a colossal sum
I’ve written a bunch about how these campaign launches are all about one thing: fundraising. By that standard, Team DeSantis hit it out of the park.
Within one hour of the launch on Wednesday night, their comms team claimed to have raised over $1 million online. Last night, the New York Times’ Shane Goldmacher reported that DeSantis for President has raised a whopping $8.2 million since Wednesday night. It’s safe to assume that's a larger single-day raise than any candidate this cycle, including the Biden campaign.
The campaign used all the typical strategies to accomplish this: digital advertising on Facebook and Google, email blasts, and SMS appeals.
They were the largest political advertiser on Google platforms on Wednesday, and I expect their online ad spending will continue apace to capitalize on the post-launch momentum. But, the secret to their fundraising success was probably this: The Times reported that the campaign’s major bundlers held a “Ron-o-Rama” on Thursday, where they called loads of rich people all day to open up their wallets. It’s something the Biden campaign was reportedly unable to pull together on launch day, and it paid off big for the Florida Governor.
Going into this week, Ron DeSantis faced sky-high expectations from conservatives and the national press to ride into the GOP field as a powerful Trump-slayer. While the digital aspects of DeSantis’ launch immediately brought his candidacy back down to earth, his team’s day one fundraising haul firmly cemented him as the leading anti-Trump alternative.
More so, there’s little evidence that voters care about DeSantis’ terrible Twitter debut. Yesterday, a POLITICO reporter was hard-pressed to find any Iowa voters that had heard about the debacle. Besides, Donald Trump’s golden escalator launch in 2015 was widely panned as dumb, bizarre, and outrageous by people like me… and then he became President of the United States.
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