Trump Camp and RNC Say This Facebook Ad Onslaught Was Risky

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For months Donald Trump's campaign has been criticized for choosing to work with a digital agency that has no political campaign experience, but insiders on his team say that's been a blessing in disguise. It's helped drive a risk-taking approach to digital advertising, they say, that has propelled the campaign to capture 95% of its fundraising transactions from small-dollar donations -- those of $200 or less.

Working closely with the Republican National Committee, the campaign and its digital team at San Antonio-based web shop Giles-Parscale flooded Facebook with a outsized array of ad variations aimed at different targeted audiences, resulting over one day in August in more than 100,000 varieties.

"This number should shock people, should cause disbelief," said Gary Coby, director of advertising at the RNC. On an average day the campaign uses a similar approach resulting in around 35,000 to 45,000 Facebook ad iterations.

"The campaign is very open to testing, very open to trying new things," he said. Alluding to the committee and campaign team as a whole, he added, "We've benefited from Parscale's experience outside of politics, which can be slow to push boundaries."

The end-of-August fundraising push put a targeting approach that the campaign has taken for months on steroids, making for far more iterations of various ad creatives and formats than usual. Ads have been produced and optimized based on traditional political issue and demographic targeting as well as whether voters were visiting Facebook from a mobile device or desktop, via a Wi-Fi connection, or using an Android or Apple device, for example. The massive amount of ad variations was the result of minor tweaks to ad creative throughout the ad run, such as changes to ad copy, calls to action, colors, and other elements. The ads were produced manually by the campaign's digital team, which includes more than 100 people.

"What's important to recognize here is the Trump campaign's commitment to experimenting with different messaging, videos, and targeting -- a strategy we recommend for all advertisers so they can identify the right mix that accomplishes their goals," said Annie Lewis, who works on Facebook's political ad sales team for clients on the right.

"We've been doing this for months," said Mr. Coby. "We just haven't been talking about it."

Mr. Trump pledged to match donations up to $2 million if donors hit a $2 million threshold by the end of August. That message became a focal point of the fundraising push on Facebook.

"My father has high expectations and he sets huge goals," said his daughter Ivanka Trump in one video ad, which included subtitles for Facebook users viewing ads without the audio turned on. "My father loves this country with all his heart and soul. He wants to work for you. He wants the American people to win again."

Other ads featured video of other Trump family members, footage of the candidate speaking at rallies, and animations of still photos. The campaign also used digital display ads, email and text messages to drive donations, and does use Facebook advertising for purposes other than fundraising.

The Trump campaign raised $90 million in August, still far less than the $143 million grabbed by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee last month. Around 2 million people have donated to support Mr. Trump's presidential run.

The campaign often begins by distributing ads to a wide audience and then optimizes and refines targets and ad messaging as time goes on. "The campaign is extremely open to letting the numbers drive our decisions," said Mr. Coby. "We try not to get boxed in by assuming that X segment will only respond to Y message."

Now that another month is coming to a close and the candidates will face off in their first debate tonight, expect the Trump camp to engage in another big Facebook fundraising push.

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