What advertising agency did Donald Trump use for his Presidential campaign? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
There's an interesting story to this one.
In what was to prove a masterstroke, Donald Trump picked, a little-known San Antonio, Texas agency that had never previously worked on a political campaign.
Co-founder Brad Parscale, who was appointed Digital Director, was known to Trump long before the billionaire entered the race. He had previously built a number of small websites for the Trump organization, but he would play a far more crucial -- possibly even defining -- role in the billionaire's election victory.
Parscale was drawn into the operation by Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner (Ivanka's husband), who by all accounts was the campaign mastermind. A third key role was played by small British data science firm Cambridge Analytica.
Together, they helped Trump pull off the biggest political upset in U.S. history.
A path-breaking campaign
This is a story of a completely unconventional campaign, using unconventional strategies. It even had an unconventional endgame in mind, where an election defeat would still translate into a win.
From a purely marketing viewpoint, this to me ranks as one of the three standout, path-breaking campaigns executed by a victorious candidate in the modern era.
The first was John F. Kennedy, whoand harnessed it to great effect in a very tight race in 1960. The second was Barack Obama, who in 2008 to spearhead the (then) best-financed political campaign in history.
And then there was Donald J. Trump.
What made the Trump 2016 campaign different?
Donald Trump was losing the battle on a number of fronts that by conventional wisdom should have condemned him to the worst defeat in U.S. election history.
He was taking an absolute battering in the mainstream media. His available funds were nowhere close to that for Hillary Clinton (). His polling numbers were a mess, and even the day prior to the election, the New York Times gave him only a , after stagnating near 10% in August.
But there were two elements to Trump's campaign that were to prove invaluable to his eventual success.
The first was Earned Media (free publicity through TV and newspaper coverage, and social media mentions). By one estimate, Trump pulled in some. By way of comparison, Clinton had $3.24 billion in free publicity, and Obama (2012) had $1.15 billion.
Much of the publicity that Trump attracted was negative, and it was assumed this was a bad thing.
Wrong, as it turns out.
The reason Trump dominated news cycles was because of the outrageous statements he made. Calling Mexicans rapists. Claiming Muslims celebrated when the World Trade Centre came down. Calling for a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. Supporting torture as a means of extracting information from prisoners. Offering only lukewarm rejection of white supremacist David Duke's endorsement.
Presidential candidates have historically preferred to be careful with their statements for fear of alienating potential voters.
Not Trump. He embraced controversy, and when faced with widespread condemnation, chose to retaliate rather than back down.
By going where he did, Trump may well have repulsed a lot of voters. But what he also did was connect on a deeper level with people who shared the same views as him. Views that they could not readily express for fear of being called racists or worse. Views they likely would not share with pollsters. But views they would signal agreement with in the one poll that mattered the most, on Election Day.
While controversies ensured Trump dominated the headlines on the election trail, there was another silent campaign underway which few were aware of. It was led by Kushner, who began taking on an increasingly larger role once it became clear Trump would secure the Republican nomination.
Kushner, who is well-connected in Silicon Valley (he and Peter Thiel are co-investors in real estate online marketplace Cadre), believed new tools that social media and technology offered could make the difference as they attempted to neutralize Hillary Clinton's funding advantage.
Rather than splurge on national advertising like the Clinton team was doing, Kushner opted to limit TV commercials, and instead gambled big on digital.
Far from the blinding spotlights that engulfed Trump Tower in New York, Kushner began assembling a team in San Antonio. He put Parscale in charge of the digital operation.
Most of the team had never worked on a political campaign, but they were skilled in what mattered: research, digital marketing, building statistical models, and scaling strategies that were shown to work.
And then in the summer, the campaign added a final, important piece to the puzzle.
This would be the second ingredient that would prove to be the difference maker in the 2016 election.
In mid-August, Trump put out this cryptic Tweet:
They will soon be calling me MR. BREXIT!-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 18, 2016
No one quite got what he was referring to. It would only be much later that it would emerge that the campaign had signed on Cambridge Analytica (CA), which had worked on the "Leave" side of the Brexit initiative for the UK to quit the European Union. The London data science firm was brought on side by incoming Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon, who sits on the CA board.
While use of Big Data in election campaigns isn't new (even Obama used it to a degree in 2012), Cambridge Analytica takes it a step further. It extracts every single bit of information it can find on an individual (up to 5,000 data points, including social media likes, voter registration records, shopping patterns and gun ownership). It then builds what it calls a, which attempts to map personality based on the 'OCEAN' criteria: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism.
The result: The Project Alamo database now had a psychographic profile of 220 million Americans, or just about every single eligible voter in America.
The campaign used the data to build a geo-location tool, plotting the density of "persuadable voters" in swing states over a Google Maps interface. This was at the heart of every key decision, from where to advertise to rally locations, even the topics Trump should bring up in his speeches. There was, apparently, a method to the madness when it came to Trump's podium rants.
The campaign also micro-targeted Facebook ads: each one tailored to groups of like-minded people. Ads were tested relentlessly -- there were some 40,000-50,000 variants put out each day -- to see which ones users engaged with. Ads that scored poorly were killed within minutes; those that generated a response were quickly scaled to larger audiences. It was, as one team member put it, "A/B testing on steroids."
One final twist
In the closing stretch, it is typical for campaigns to launch "Get Out The Vote" drives to increase turnout of likely supporters. Unfortunately for Trump, neither he nor the Republican National Committee had prioritized the registration and mobilization of what polls showed to be his biggest base: eligible white voters without college degrees.
To compensate for this, Parscale's team rolled out a "Suppress The Vote" campaign instead, targeting three specific groups of likely Clinton supporters: young women, African Americans, and idealistic white liberals. Negative ads -- like a 20-year-old clip where she suggested some African Americans were "super-predators" -- were rolled out in a bid to turn them off Clinton and make them too disillusioned to vote at all.
Much of this flew under the radar, and even while most polls had given up Trump for dead, Parscale claimed in an interview with Fox that on the Friday before the election, he had predicted the Republican candidate would win with 305 electoral votes.
As it turned out, he was off by just one.
Plan B: If Trump lost...
For all their stated confidence, there was no guarantee that the Trump campaign team's numbers would stand up after the vote count. In fact, it appears both Trump and Kushner had been preparing for that likelihood.
The backup plan was to capitalize on what they had built through Project Alamo. The database had captured information on millions of Trump supporters, including email addresses and phone numbers. Had he lost, they would have used it to build an audience for a Trump TV network.
In fact, barely three weeks prior to the election, the Financial Times reported that Kushner had approached LionTree Advisors chief executive Aryeh Bourkoff about the possibility of launching just such a network.
The Trump operation was the ultimate "win-win" setup.
Which win Donald Trump would have preferred is anybody's guess.
References and further reading:
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