A slow start to the digital race for mayor of NYC

McGuire leads the field in digital ad spending, Yang has the biggest following

The race to be the next mayor of America’s biggest city effectively ends with the Democratic primary in just under three months, but the major candidates have only spent limited amounts of campaign cash on ads online. 

Instead, much of the candidates’ ad dollars seem to be going to TV and radio, and their online operations thus far are focusing on fundraising or organic online engagement on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The limited online spending isn’t entirely unexpected - as many of the campaigns are currently only allowed to each spend $7.3 million in the primary in order to receive public matching funds - and they’ll want to reserve much of their war chest until closer to the election. 

Facebook ads

From what we can tell, the top candidates have started investing moderate amounts of cash into fundraising and list building ads on Facebook. Here’s how much they have spent this year so far (remember, Facebook political ads were banned prior to March 4th):

Former Citigroup exec Ray McGuire is the biggest spender on Facebook so far, spending more than the rest of the field combined. His campaign is mostly targeting New Yorkers aged 35+, running introductory and fundraising ads, as well as building his Facebook following with ads like the ones below.

Maya Wiley, who is competing in the unofficial “progressive lane” in the primary, spent five figures fundraising on the platform in the first week of March, but has since stopped running Facebook ads altogether. 

...and FWIW, Andrew Yang’s Facebook ads have been focused on fundraising too, building up his grassroots support:

Google + Snapchat spending

Google’s political ads library doesn’t consistently provide data on municipal election advertising, so we’re left in the dark on how much the candidates are spending on YouTube and Google Search ads. However, we’ve seen at least McGuire and Yang advertising in Search and YouTube over the past few months, and Google still sometimes archives Yang’s spending in their ad library, presumably due to his past candidacy in a federal election.

On Snapchat, Andrew Yang is the only candidate to have run any advertising, and it’s just this one that he’s spent less than $2k on. 

Building a following

A look at the size of the candidates’ Facebook audiences indicates that the top campaigns have been unable to grow large followings on the platform without paid ad dollars; the popular NYC Western Chinese restaurant chain Xi’an Famous Foods has a bigger following on the platform (17,239) than all of the other top candidates except Yang combined (9,558). Here’s a look at their followings on the biggest social media platforms (we’ve removed Yang from this count as he has a *massive* online following from his presidential campaign):

As far as we can tell, former non-profit executive Dianne Morales is the only candidate other than Andrew Yang who’s on TikTok, and by all appearances her campaign (and her daughter) know exactly how to use the platform. She’s just shy of 25k followers as of this writing. In one TikTok, she talks directly to the Youths about if and how they can get involved with the campaign.

Otherwise, every candidate seems to be most active on Instagram, which is also where they’re all seeing the most audience growth. According to data from Crowdtangle, the top candidates other than Yang have seen about 26% audience growth on average on Facebook over the past month, while their Instagram audiences have grown over 50% on average over the past month.

Morales’ campaign has seen the most audience growth on Instagram over the past month, at around 42%. Maya Wiley - a longtime activist, MSNBC contributor, and former aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio - has the largest following on the platform, which she has very much made her own. Recently, Wiley has been going up frequently on IGTV - often from the comfort of her home, much like a certain prominent NYC congresswoman -  to share her thoughts and positions and highlight local initiatives and businesses in the city.

FWIW, the race for mayor of New York City is up for grabs in pretty much every way, and with just months to go before the primary ends, it’s almost certainly going to heat up fast. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the digital tactics the campaigns are deploying in this extremely consequential race as it progresses - so stay tuned!