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Presidential campaigns set new records for social media ad spend

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President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden set new spending records for political ads on social media in this election.

Both candidates used a deluge of political ads during their campaigns to reach voters directly on platforms like Facebook.

Between January 2019 and October 24, 2020, Eyewitness News found that both candidates individually spent more on Facebook advertising than Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton combined during the 2016 election.

During that period, Trump’s campaign had spent around $ 107 million on Facebook ads, and Biden’s campaign had spent just over $ 94 million.

In contrast, the two candidates together spent $ 81 million in 2016, according to statements made by Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch during a 2017 House Intelligence Committee hearing.

In just two days after the last presidential debate on October 22nd, Eyewitness News found that Biden’s campaign spent nearly $ 2.7 million and Trump’s campaign spent around $ 1.4 million.

“Nobody in the digital world is surprised that there is increasing focus on digital ads,” said Karen North, professor of digital social media at USC Annenberg. “Unlike traditional media, digital allows you to speak directly to the audience. The real, big change between social media over traditional media is that we feel like we have a personal connection with someone.”

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Candidate ads are sponsored and can appear in Facebook users’ feeds in a similar way to a post from a friend. Digital advertising also enables political campaigns to select who to target and to write messages that target that audience directly, says North.

“You can say you want to send this message to soccer mothers and another message to mothers of swim teams,” said North. “It feels like you are whispering in my ear. It feels like you are talking to me directly.”

The 2020 Campaign Tracker from Bully Pulpit Interactive, a communications company, analyzed what type of voter each candidate targeted in social media ads.

By evaluating ads from September 26 through October 17, the tracker showed that Biden targeted women 59.4% of the time and men 39.8% of the time.

Biden also tended to target voters aged 44 and younger.

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In contrast, the tracker showed that Trump slightly favored male voters, targeting men 49.8% of the time, and also older voters, those 45 and over, about 67.4% of the time.

North said social media advertising enables candidates to know exactly what type of voter they are reaching and to create messages that are tailored to their interests, making voters more prone to persuasion.

“Unfortunately, people don’t know how vulnerable they are to tampering,” said North. “It is very hard to think of a time when people are hearing the news again, thinking about the news, and talking to people instead of getting the news from someone who is an opinion leader first. What if that is the case? For our future, we need to educate people that the news you read can be an opinion, not news. “

It’s too early to say what impact social media advertising had on this election, but North said it was clear how important it was for voters to independently research topics and candidates, and to both think about what they vote for and what they vote against, rather than relying entirely on social media content for information.

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