ernie Sanders is a Democratic presidential candidate for the 2020 election in the US, a former congressman and serving U.S. Senator for Vermont. Despite being born in 1941 he is also the candidate with the dankest memes (though the #YangGang are turning up the heat) so I suspected his team might be good at paid social too… oh hell yeah, he’s dropping $355k a week on Facebook ads!
Bernie has spent $3.2 million on 37,000 ads since May — to me, that's kind of unbelievable. I mean the 2020 election is over a year away! I have to admit I was originally going to go for the obvious, and review Donald Trump’s Facebook ads (they did win him the White House after all), but then I saw that Bernie is currently spending the most on Facebook out of any candidate.
Spending close to half a million a week on Facebook ads doesn’t feel very socialist… but it is very intriguing (and it’s 2019: Socialists can be millionaires too). This is also far more than the combined spending from all political parties in the UK, where only £150k per week total is being spent during the final hours of Brexit. It’s important to note that 1,700 ad variations a week is a pace of iteration that’s about 10x faster than any of the private companies I’ve covered.
If you’d like to download all of the ads featured in this post, we’ve made them available in this google drive folder, as part of our Facebook ads library resource. All ad examples come from the Facebook ads library tool.
What did we learn?
Bernie is all about the copy tests. From the 1,700 new ads he’s running this week, there were only a handful of unique images and videos tested; the rest were different variations of copy or the same ad repeated. His ads are what you’d expect from political ads, but he does a good job of making clear who the villain is—whether that’s Wall St., the fossil fuel industry, Donald Trump, billionaires or ‘the whole damn 1 percent’. The personal videos he does talking direct to the voters work well, and he is heavily promoting to boost attendance numbers for his rallies. Oh and of course he gives out free stickers for your laptop.
If you’re interested in Facebook ads (if you’re reading this article, I presume you are!) then you might want to take a look at Spotlight. It uses machine learning to see what’s IN your images and text, then automatically show you what’s driving performance.
Drive Fans to the Rally
A huge focus of Bernie’s is on driving people to register for his rallies. The upcoming Denver rally made up the first several pages of ads that I reviewed. One thing I noted was that there were a tonne of duplicate ads, and each one of the ads I looked at had individually spent < $100. I don’t know if this is some optimization hack, or a result of audience micro-targeting, but it was unusual.
Previous to the rally in Denver there was a tailgate in Iowa which honestly sounds like a lot of fun—live music, yard games, free pizza… this is the socialism we were hoping for. He has a prominent slogan which reiterates his campaign pledge to be a man of the people (i.e. the polar opposite of his rival, Trump) and a strong red call to action on the image.
These event promotions are well done and they make it feel like a good time. I mean who doesn’t want to cover themselves in Bernie gear and march through Detroit on Labor Day? I just love how they remind you to charge your phones—this completely disarms what might otherwise be a scary proposition (a political rally), by reminding you of something your mother or father might say. Then of course they finish on ‘Solidarity forever!’, which is more like something your Polish history professor might say.
In all of these ads they use great pictures that put you in the scene and show the main man prominently. Notice how he’s always in the crowd interacting, to give you higher hopes of meeting him. The date is always displayed in multiple places so even if you forget to RSVP, this will still drive awareness, conversations around the dinner table and hopefully attendance.
Give Out Free Stickers
This one was a little weird. I mean, do people really donate to political parties just to get a free sticker? I’m sure it works, because people are fickle and love free stuff, but it’s kind of depressing that it does.
There were hundreds of variations of these ads, different images but mostly different copy variations, which is good to see. This looks like an always on campaign to promote the green new deal that is being rigorously tested, rather than the one-time rally promotions.
Three things I love about this ad. 1. The phrase “chip in”. 2. the built-in objection handling “any amount” and 3. the sticker is exclusively on Apple laptops (know your audience!). The arrow to the sticker of course helps, as does the prominent red ‘donate’ call to action.
What Bernie understands is that it’s not just about the sticker. It’s about what the sticker says. By donating and getting one of these stickers, you’re showing you’re ‘feeling the Bern’, that you care about the planet, and that you’re willing to fight against billionaires. Maybe that cute girl in your local artisan coffee shop will finally to speak to you. You’re saying all I have to do is ‘chip in any amount’ to tap into that powerful identity? Sounds worth it to the right person.
Know Your Enemy
Bernie knows that every working class revolution needs a bourgeois elite class to play the villain, and it is certainly good fortune that he has so many to choose from! Donald Trump is a common appearance, as you might imagine, and he has tapped into a general distrust of the political establishment (ironically that’s also the wave Trump rode to power).
It’s not just Donald Trump however, but also all billionaires, Wall st. the drug companies, insurance companies, you name it. That’s not all: the military-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, the fossil fuel industry (he sure hates industry) are all targets.
In fact, why not just say it—he’s taking on the whole 1 percent. Anyone with money must be bad, and to be honest in the past few years they’ve kind of earned this vitriol. This is why we can’t have nice things, billionaires. However I have to imagine this mathematically can’t hold up—if we cut the billionaires down to size, then at some point from book sales alone Bernie himself will be in the 1%... then who will he fight?
Bernie does a lot right with these ads. It’s often much easier for people to identify what they don’t like, than define what they do like. So setting them against a common enemy really is a powerful motivator. He follows a lot of best practices with these ads, like using captions over the video, making people feel part of a movement, setting clear deadlines and calls to action. It is really impressive, and that’s probably why Facebook is working for him.
Talk Directly to the Voters
The other technique Bernie uses to make his fans feel like it’s all about them, is this video ad format where he talks directly to the camera. It feels authentic and personal, making you almost forget it’s going out to millions of people on Facebook simultaneously.
Bernie’s team again uses best practice well here, for example overlaying the captions text on the video so you can understand it without sound, and by showing the persistent phone number to text at the top — it almost feels like a live telethon.
Moving away from the authentic walking outdoors format, they’re also experimenting with a presidential debate style video. This is likely to prime the viewer to think about Bernie as a presidential candidate, then realize they might need to help to make that dream a reality. He is always very personal in these videos, calling on the viewer directly to donate.
Meet Important Deadlines
The other smart thing Bernie does is create urgency. We saw this with his rally ads, but the second biggest category of ads we saw him run was approaching the August 31st deadline. I’m not sure if the ‘end of the month fundraising deadline’ is a real deadline with consequences, but it sure feels that way. They use that ‘chip in’ phrase again from the stickers campaign, and again paint the wealthy as the enemy of the people.
One thing people forget with urgency, is that the vast majority of sales are likely to occur on the final day of a sale, or the day before an event. The principle is the same for political donations, so it’s smart that Bernie was running ads on the final day of the month calling out the midnight deadline. There are far too many people who would donate, but forget or are too lazy, so by setting clear and believable urgency you motivate those people to act now.
The great thing about this ad is that it uses quite a colloquial phrase ‘close the books’ to give a believable reason to donate right now. It makes the connection between donations and winning, handles your objections—they are actually looking for small donations—and plays on your sense of identity: can Bernie count on you?
If you’d like to download all of the ads in this post, they’re located in this google drive folder for this blog post, in our Facebook ads library, categorized by section. All ad examples come from the Facebook ads library tool.
Now that you’ve finished reading, I’m sure you’ll be inspired to run more tests of your own. When you’re testing at least 3-5 ads per week, you need a tool like Spotlight to help you get insights into the plus or minus factors driving creative performance.