I know why you came to this website! It was for politics, right? Don’t worry, I’m not here to deliver a pro- or anti- rant about bagism, tagism, this-ism or that-ism. I promise.
If you’ve been watching ‘The Walking Dead’ this season, you may have noticed a lot of Trump ads leading up to the election. Maybe you wrote this off to the normal blitz of ads that always seems to come in the closing weeks of a campaign. But like so many things this year, that blitz wasn’t exactly as normal as it might’ve seemed.
You can thank Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and by all accounts the de-facto head of his Presidential campaign, for that onslaught. Trump’s victory was an upset for any number of reasons, not least of which was his campaigns relative lack of resources in comparison to Hillary Clinton’s (Federal Election Commission filings from October have Trump spending roughly half as much as Clinton). Much of Kushner’s (and by extension, Trump’s) success can be credited to his ability to navigate the online world.
Kushner’s success in the digital realm is significant not just because it helped tip the balance of an election, but because modern Presidential campaigns remain uncertain about how exactly they should approach the internet. Maybe this is a combination of the tendency in American politics to always fight the last war (i.e. to approach a new campaign based on the perceived weaknesses of the last one) and the prevalence of conventional wisdom. Maybe it has more to do with the ever changing landscape of the Internet. Barack Obama had tremendous success at using online platforms to mobilize voters in both of his Presidential campaigns, and years before that, Howard Dean essentially dragged American electoral politics kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century throughout his primary campaign. But think about that for a moment. Obama first ran for President in 2008, and Dean competed in the 2004 primary. How much has the internet landscape changed just since 2008, never mind 2004. While “Obama’s internet”, if you will, is more or less recognizable, Dean’s is another story, as the landscape he faced was one in which modern mainstays like Facebook were in their infancy and YouTube would not even exist for another year.
Of course, the focus on new media doesn’t mean they ignored the old. But it like much of the campaign, it was handled somewhat unconventionally. Traditional online advertising was certainly a factor, for example, but not nearly to the same degree as social media. And what about television? Like traditional online advertising, TV wasn’t exactly high on the totem pole. Between the shifting media landscape and the campaign’s limited funds, Kushner had to be particularly strategic in his use of TV ads. This was a process made infinitely easier by his access to the resources of the Republican Party. To wit:
Kushner’s crew was able to tap into the Republican National Committee’s data machine, and it hired targeting partners like Cambridge Analytica to map voter universes and identify which parts of the Trump platform mattered most: trade, immigration, or change. Tools like Deep Root drove the scaled back TV ad spending by identifying shows popular with specific voter blocks in specific regions – say, ‘NCIS’ for anti-Obamacare voters or ‘The Walking Dead’ for people worried about immigration.
Essentially, this data allowed them to target ads with remarkable specificity. Not only were they able to focus on shows that were popular among a given demographic (say, 18-25 year olds), they were also able to narrow this down to particular regions of the country. In other words, “18-25 year olds in central Wisconsin are more likely to be concerned about trade and a lot of them watch ‘The Walking Dead’. Let’s run a bunch of ads”.
If you find all of this as interesting as I do, head over to Forbes. They cover the digital aspects and several other elements of the Trump campaign apparatus in greater detail.