30th October 2020

Trump vs. Biden: What can Marketers learn from the U.S. Presidential Election campaign?

In today’s digital-by-default world, it is perhaps no surprise that digital marketing is an increasingly important component of U.S. Presidential Election campaigns.

In recent months, both Donald Trump and Joe Biden have leveraged the extensive reach of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Google and YouTube to target voters across the States. We’ve picked out 5 of the key tactics and trends from this year’s Election campaign, to see what we can learn as Marketers.


Why don’t candidates stick to traditional marketing methods, such as TV advertisements?

In essence, the ability to tailor political messages and advertisements to specific target audiences provides a substantial opportunity for campaigners to influence voters. Using Facebook and Instagram’s paid ad services, political parties can target voters based on age, occupation, location, and even their salary. When compared with the homogenous, standardised nature of TV advertising, it is easy to see why digital marketing plays a pivotal role in deciding the outcome of key swing states.

Building a positive reputation and brand image is important for all organisations – whether political or corporate. In a world where the actions of your organisation can be scrutinised so intensely online, brand perception is becoming increasingly important in the eye of the consumer. Therefore, the online persona of your organisation, and how you interact with your community, can be the difference between making a sale or not making a sale; or in this instance, getting a vote or not getting a vote.

So, are the Republicans or Democrats spending more on digital advertising campaigns?

Republican candidate Trump had an early lead on digital marketing spend – largely due to the current President being able to raise a lot of money and communicate to voters before Biden had even won the nomination.

Trump’s campaign has spent a total of $228 million on advertising on Facebook, Google and YouTube, topping Democrat nominee Joe Biden’s total of $151 million. In the past month, both the Republican and Democrat parties spent approximately $50 million on Google and Facebook ads alone.

This year, a total of $2.9 billion has been spent on political advertisements related to the U.S. Election, including traditional means of advertisement, – almost 6 times more than the amount spent on ads at this point in the 2016 Election campaign.

Since mid-April, the Republicans have spent a resounding $135.2 million on Facebook and Google ads, while the Democrats have spent $101.8 million. However, TV ad spending still heavily outweighs the amount spent on digital ads. Biden’s campaign has spent more than $600 million on TV ads, compared to President Trump’s $400 million. Perhaps this tells us that, even at a time when political ads can be personalised and tailored so deeply, Presidential candidates still prefer mass communication to convey political messages.

The topic of whether social media platforms should allow political campaigners to publish ads on their platforms has sparked an interesting debate around freedom of speech. Twitter and TikTok have banned political ads altogether, whilst Snapchat has promised to fact-check them. Speaking last October, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, argued “political message reach should be earned, not bought.” Facebook and Google have also pledged to ban ads relating to the Election after Election Day.

How does this compare to the UK?

In the UK, political parties’ spend is capped at £30,000 for each constituency that it contests in a general election. This spend encompasses advertising of any kind, leaflets or letters sent to voters’ homes, a manifesto, press conferences, rallies, and transport to party events. Therefore, if a party had a candidate for each of the UK’s 650 constituencies, then the maximum spend would amount to £19.5 million. Compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on U.S. Election campaigns, the British equivalent is evidently a mere drop in the ocean.

What can Marketers learn from the U.S. Presidential Election campaign?

1. Tailor your advertising messages to your exact target demographic.

Joe Biden’s campaign ran 38 different ads in the last month in Pennsylvania alone – a swing state which Trump won by less than 50,000 votes in 2016. According to the RealClear Politics polling average, Biden now leads in this state by 4.4%. This demonstrates the effectiveness of identifying potential market opportunities; and deploying the necessary marketing resources and tactics to exploit these opportunities – a lesson which can and should be applied to the wider business world.

By tailoring their advertising messages to 38 different demographics within Pennsylvania, the Biden campaign were able to communicate their overarching message in ways which would appeal to each specific audience. This is a far more effective means of advertising than simply adopting a ‘blanket approach’, which uses a standardised message for all target audiences, and therefore fails to convey a message which truly resonates with the end viewer.

Digital ads also enable campaigners and marketeers to understand what works and what doesn’t, and gain valuable feedback in real-time. This data can then be smartly used throughout the election cycle, to understand which stories resonate with voters, helping to drive purposeful and relevant campaigns.

2. Post little and often.

In the opposing corner, the success of Trump’s campaign has largely been down to its simplicity and consistency. By regularly sharing content online in the form of quick, easy-to-read bursts of text, Trump ensures his political messages can be consumed, engaged with, and shared as easily as possible. For example, Trump usually posts around 10 short Tweets a day. By doing this, Trump can give his views and opinions on topical subjects in real-time – helping to provoke thought and spark debate within his online community.

3. Be authentic.

Whilst some of these Tweets are automated, a lot of them are written by the President himself – allowing Trump to come across as authentic and gain credibility with his target audience. This is an important lesson for all Marketers; by ensuring your brand’s voice is real and human-like, rather than robotic, you will be able to build up meaningful connections with your online audience a lot easier.

4. Keep things simple for your end viewer.

Take a look at Trump’s website, and you’ll see there isn’t much text above the fold. With clear call-to-actions, the minimalistic approach of the website ensures readers don’t have to search for what they want to see. By being direct, purposeful, and keeping things simple for the end viewer, Trump’s digital strategy helps him to cut through the noise and ultimately reach a wider target audience.

5. Leverage personal brands to gain awareness and credibility.

Another key pillar of the Trump campaign’s success is the ability to leverage the President’s own personal brand, in order to directly communicate the Republican party’s political agenda to Trump’s followers. As a lot of Trump’s supporters resonate with him because of his cut-throat personality and achievements outside of politics, it is far more effective for the Republican party to allow the President to be himself – with his own voice and autonomy over how he communicates – rather than promote his message through the party’s own brand.

This is also true in the wider business sense. If a person within your organisation has significant online popularity and/or an ability to influence consumers or decision makers, leveraging this asset can dramatically increase awareness and attention to your business – which can then be converted into sales. You only have to look at the success of Gary Vaynerchuk’s personal brand compared to ‘VaynerMedia’ and ‘Empathy Wines’ to see the success this strategy can have in practice.

Granted, not all companies have the luxury of being able to leverage personal brands within their organisation. But if you can, you should!



The future of marketing in Presidential Election campaigns

Due to the new restrictions on political ads imposed by platforms such as Google, TikTok, Snapchat, and now even Facebook - it looks like future Presidential candidates may struggle to build their image online through paid media.

This could see campaigners resort to organic media and earned and owned strategies instead, to develop a positive reputation. For example, when Bernie Sanders appeared on the Joe Rogan Podcast in 2016, he was able to get his political message across to millions of viewers, without paying a penny. Whilst this strategy doesn’t allow candidates to tailor messages as precisely as with paid ads, it does allow them to generate significant attention and awareness from a specific audience, at little to no cost.

Do you think political campaigners should be banned from running ads on social media? What strategies would you use instead to raise awareness and gain popularity? As marketing and politics continue to evolve, this is definitely a debate which we can expect to heat up in the coming years.




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