Want to know who’s running in 2024? Just ask Facebook.
Potential presidential candidates show their hands with targeted digital ads
In 2018, Facebook and Google created databases of all political ads on their platforms in an effort to help users, researchers, and journalists better understand how advertisers are reaching voters. Readers of our weekly newsletter likely agree that those ad libraries have been enormously useful for understanding campaigns’ messaging, stopping bad actors, and monitoring candidates’ tactics.
These transparency databases may have also created one unintentional consequence: candidates for president who typically try to stay under the radar until launch time are now increasingly forced to show their hands, vis-à-vis their digital ad operations.
In order to run a functioning, nationwide presidential campaign, a candidate needs to rake in lots of grassroots dollars - fast. To do that, their team has to build a list of supporters to spam with endless fundraising appeals, and one of the quickest ways to “acquire” those folks is via Facebook ads. Once those ads run, researchers and journalists are able to easily find their content and targeting details in the ad libraries, often revealing the campaign’s initial intent.
By that metric, the 2024 presidential election is well underway.
Last June, FWIW was the first outlet to report that despite Facebook’s “ban” of former President Trump, his campaign was back on Facebook fundraising for another potential White House bid.
In January 2022, we reported on the first explicit 2024 moves by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who at the time spent over $75,000 on ads just targeting grassroots supporters in the early nominating states of Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Nevada.
While it’s been rare to find candidates already targeting Iowa and New Hampshire, Pompeo isn’t alone. Last week, we were again the first to notice South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem running a significant amount of ads in those same early states. Noem’s ads hit different, in part because they weren’t even trying to raise money - instead, they simply promoted a biographical video to introduce the candidate to GOP voters.
…and lastly, analyzing spending over time, instead of just individual ads, can also tell a compelling story of the state of a candidate’s operation. For instance, former Vice President Mike Pence’s campaign-in-waiting hasn’t necessarily been targeting swing states, but their digital ad spending has grown exponentially of late - and has heavily featured Pence himself.
2024 is still a long while off (shouldn’t we all be focused on the election happening in 3.5 months!?), but the seeds of what will likely be over a dozen campaigns are already being laid now. Digital staffers and campaign operatives beware - as we move past the midterms this fall, more and more eyes are going to be watching your every move. 😂😂😂