Could Targeted Online Ads Help Take Down Trump?

Donald Trump at a campaign event

If the idea of a President Trump fills you with horror, you’re not alone: both Democratic and Republican groups are doing their best to take him down. Most of the coverage of their plans has focused on TV ads and grassroots organizing, but as I write in the latest Technology Bytes column at Campaigns & Elections, digital ads bring unique strengths to the battle:

Anti-Trump activists won't just fight over the airwaves, though. They'll certainly use the data-driven power of digital advertising to target specific voters and demographic groups. By matching a message to a recipient's predicted political leanings, groups will try to rev up folks not inclined to support Trump, preparing the ground for GOTV operations in the fall.

For example, liberal groups are assembling examples of Trump's perceived sexism, with his years of appearances on reality TV and talk radio providing plenty of grist for the mill. Watch for ads using this content to target women, perhaps with different variations based on age, income, location or past voting history (upscale Republican women may be a particularly receptive audience, for instance).

Other digital ads could dampen the Trump-mentum among working-class white men. The Donald's past business practices and current policy prescriptions create plenty of opportunities to use the words "con" and "fraud", and activists can employ online ads to test many different stories and ways of framing them. The goal? To drain off enough of his potential support to push down his margins among those voters. His hardcore fans seem immune to such appeals, but their neighbors might just need a little nudge to keep them off the bandwagon.

The targeting is the key element, letting an anti-Trump campaign deliver messages to the right people without much risk of blowback. TV ads are much more of a blunt-force weapon by contrast. Even with the latest TV targeting techniques, you still risk putting messages in front of Trump’s hardcore supporters that would bind them tighter to their annointed hero.

Another advantage of digital? You can run the ads early and often, starting now! Via response data, activists can find the right messages for each audience and put them in front of the right eyeballs day after day, hopefully eroding his support and firing up his opposition over many months. The key question, of course, is whether or not it will work. For the future of our democracy and America’s standing in the world, it’d better.


Image: Donald Trump speaking with the media at a hangar at Mesa Gateway Airport in Mesa, Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

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Colin Delany
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