What Black Americans Want in 2020
Exclusive expert interview on modern online electoral campaign strategy
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected US election campaigns? Where do candidates look for their voter? What’s the secret of Donald Trump‘s 2016 online Twitter campaign? Why did Hillary Clinton lose the 2016 election? These and other questions in an exclusive interview for the Russian Service «Voices of America» replied Scott Goodstine (Scott Goodstein), founder and CEO of Catalyst Campaigns. He coordinated online marketing and social media presence for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and was the chief digital presence strategist for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign. According to him, the coronavirus pandemic has led to the fact that today all – from restaurants to Netflix – began to actively use online advertising, and that now candidates will need four times more money than before to reach the audience.
Margot Gontard: How much of an election campaign budget can its online promotion take??
Scott Goodstine: It’s not always the same. But we are talking about large-scale campaigns in many states, and this is several hundred million dollars. Of course, if you look at the scale of the American economy, then during our conversation, the government managed to spend hundreds of billions of dollars only on defense programs. So that «hundreds of millions of dollars» may sound like a lot of money to me and to you, but during the Bernie Sanders campaign, we raised several hundred million dollars just for the primaries. And every year a new record is set. So we’re talking about a billion dollar industry.
Another problem that, unlike other countries, is in the USA – they are general elections a year long and election campaigns lasting 2 years. We also do not have such a media infrastructure as in other countries. For example, in Latin America, the government provides television time for candidates on a pro rata basis. There is no such thing in the USA. Time even on the lowest-rated TV channels costs money.
In the digital space, you buy and trade in real time. Nowadays, advertising prices start from $ 15-20 per viewing of a commercial, and as the elections approach, they can exceed the initial cost by 2-3 times, reaching $ 50-60, because everyone is starting to fight for the same users..
Online advertising should spend 50% of the total advertising budget. For comparison, Hillary Clinton’s campaign spent about 12-15% on such ads. But given that now you can’t really knock on people’s doors, I would say that a candidate’s budget for online communication should be at least 50%.
M.G .: You want to say that one of the reasons for Hillary Clinton’s failure in 2016 was precisely the insufficient budget for online advertising. ?
S.G .: I am convinced of this. In fact, they did not participate in the fight at all. One side (Trump’s campaign) spent half of their budget, millions of dollars, on an online campaign and people saw its ad all the time, while the other (Clinton) spent only about 12% of its comparable budget, and they had no advertising presence at all. Michigan and Wisconsin.
S.G .: Twitter has never really mattered much in political advertising. It was used to carry out political sabotage and divert the attention of a potential voter. It helps to change the vector of discourse and strengthen the message.
S.G .: Now every company in the US, be it the restaurant business, film and music industry, Amazon and Netflix, are increasingly using online advertising to market their product. For example, if you are releasing and promoting your new music album, then you cannot do it now as before. As a result, the price of online advertising rises. And what I would call the background information noise on the Internet is getting worse. You now need nearly four times as much campaign money as you did before just to get through this «noise».
M.G .: In 2016, we saw how micro-targeting and the ability to target specific constituencies with unique messages changed the course of elections. How, in your opinion, did this affect the methods of conducting election campaigns in the future, and specifically – this year?
S.G .: In use «big data» there are pros and cons. On the one hand, if used correctly, you can literally reach out to every single voter. On the other hand, when you rely too much on «big data», you are missing out on huge populations, such as African Americans or young voters. Besides, «big data» coincide with reality only in 65% of cases. Relying too much on «big data», we forget to just go and talk to people. Although I ran a large online advertising company, I was among the first to use «big data», in order to point out political campaigning to voters, I still have enough experience to remember, – it is necessary to have a message, it is necessary to interact with groups of voters that may be missed in the database.
The US political world has become a full-time industry with over a billion dollars in turnover. Therefore, today college graduates are already coming, who were taught to work in the program and set up Facebook ads. It’s already easy to find a resume that says: «I have already worked in a campaign using science-based methods». Great, but who knows if you’ve reached the voter? We kind of became smarter and dumber at the same time. We forgot how to talk to real people, interact with them, establish real connections, communicate. Especially during the coronavirus pandemic, when everything happens on the Internet. I think you need to knock on doors and find a unique approach to everyone..
M.G .: The campaigns of Obama in 2008 and Bernie Sanders in 2016 were called innovative. You have worked in both, tell me what is needed to find new approaches to election campaigns in the United States from year to year?
S.G .: You need to understand where your voters are and go to them. For example, in Ukraine, large city squares provide an opportunity to communicate with people. In my grandfather’s time, the marketplace was the platform for American politics. You could literally climb onto the box and alert the world to your political platform. When I was doing MySpace for Barack Obama – it was «market Square» of the time where the people to whom we spoke gathered gathered. Even earlier there was the Black Planet social network, popular among African Americans. I was working for an African American candidate then, and I decided, why don’t I go out to this market square, like my grandfather did, and talk to people?
I am always trying to figure out where these market squares where people gather today. I think that now there are a couple of whose opportunities are underutilized. For example, everyone talks about Facebook and Twitter, but then there is LinkedIn. This is a great platform where people tired of online ads and arguing with friends and classmates about politics can really communicate in a very understandable, clear «market square». There is also an application – notice board for residents of the area. My parents had one. Next to mailboxes, where they posted announcements, for example, that someone’s cat was lost. Now it’s all online, but not on Facebook, but in the small Next Door app for the community of neighbors, with ads for a couch that is given away for free. People use this application for pandemic situations, when someone asks to bring something from the store, because he himself is at risk. This is how people who are trusted by their neighbors who build a community appear, and for me this is an obvious place to go and establish communication. Is it innovation? Maybe. But for me, this is a return to the same basic principles and the search for answers to the questions: where people gather, and how to find an approach to them..
M.G .: What is the secret to the success of Donald Trump’s 2016 online Twitter campaign?
S.G .: Why did Trump win? Because he said things that resonated with a lot of people, whether I like it or not. Trump used real emotion in his tweets. It felt like he was actually writing it, it wasn’t just a dispassionate press release written by a third party. This gave his messages a sense of authenticity., “authenticity”, which the other candidates did not have. The (Clinton) campaign essentially continued the policies of the previous administration, while much of the country, like Ohio, where I came from, felt forgotten, left behind. And Trump reached out to these people via Twitter, promising change. And no matter if I like it or not –slogan to make the country your own again, to make it great – it was an emotional appeal to those who felt forgotten by the Obama administration.
Young voters spot lies a mile away. They can tell the difference between a real message and a fake one, and in Trump’s case, it felt like he wrote it himself. – unlike the Democrats, who just posted a bunch of pre-written posts and approved by 20 lawyers. Yes, it’s safer this way, but you thereby lose the effect of spontaneity, emotional connection, relevance.
Second, he was constantly on Twitter. I remember the Democratic consultants laughed at this, saying, «Well, who’s a normal tweet at 4 a.m.?». I’m from a Cleveland worker myself, Ohio, I know what a night shift is, –it was they, these traditionally Democratic voters, who were tweeting at three in the morning while they were preparing breakfast or taking care of the children. What’s more, the three o’clock tweet also sets the tone for the day’s news. So, firstly, he was able to reach out to his opponent’s constituency, and secondly, he influenced the news agenda in a way that Democrats underestimated..
As a result, everyone on the news was talking about Trump, and he got millions of dollars worth of advertising and television for free. – thanks to one 140-character Twitter post. He spent tons of money on online technology. Democrats laughed at this, in some way derogatory talking about his voters, instead of starting to master new technologies themselves, calling them experimental, as opposed to «reality». But this is the very one «city square», where everyone gathers, and, going back to today with the coronavirus pandemic, this is the only place where people gather, other than the shops where they go to buy groceries.
You go to where they are. Not everyone is on Twitter. You use it to speak to the press and your main voter base. But I don’t think you can convince someone on Twitter. Unfortunately for the Democrats, they did not speak to their voter base. They did not use the hashtag #Life-skinimportant when speaking to their constituents, while Trump speaks directly to his constituents, all the time using the hashtag #maga (short for «Let’s Make America Great Again» – ed. G.A.).
M.G .: Is creating commercials for TV different from preparing them for the Internet??
S.G .: Video – it’s always a video. You usually don’t remember where you saw it while sitting in a taxi or surfing the Internet. Let me give you an example. In the US, there is an evening talk show host named Jimmy Kimmel. So, you usually don’t remember if you saw his show live, a clip on Youtube, or on Facebook, on Twitter, or literally sitting in a taxi. You just say: «Oh, I saw something at Kimmel», or «I saw something at Trevor Noah» (TV show host — ed. G.A.), or «Oh Trevor Noah interviewed this man, they talked about something interesting». It’s just a video. If your video is emotional, funny, real, then it is important not where voters will see it, but whether they will remember it.