Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has begun spending heavily on Facebook ads that also promote the social media pages of his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, running more than $325,000 (£262,135) in such ads, mostly in recent weeks.
Until this week, Mr Parscale was one of only three people whose Facebook and Instagram pages the campaign had used to display ads. The other two were Mr Trump and Mike Pence.
Digital strategists said it was highly unusual to use a campaign staff member’s page to run ads. But the Trump campaign said that it was testing the use of Mr Parscale’s page to run ads from different accounts, with more to follow, including Donald Trump Jr, and that Mr Parscale had received no financial gain.
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Here is how it works: the Trump campaign buys ads and uses Mr Parscale’s Facebook and Instagram accounts as the vehicles to display those messages to social media users scrolling through their timelines, showing Mr Parscale’s accounts, even to those who do not follow his pages. The Parscale ads have shown campaign videos, asked supporters to take online surveys and urged people to donate before this week’s end-of-quarter deadline.
“I’m relying on grass-roots donations from hard-working Patriots, like YOU, to lead us to victory,” says one ad that has run this week using Mr Parscale’s page. On Monday, the Trump campaign began running ads using the Facebook page of a second strategist, Katrina Pierson; those ads are so new that her page does not yet appear in Facebook’s archive of advertisers.
Mr Parscale’s follower counts have risen as the advertisements have been running. His number of Instagram followers has risen by 10 per cent in the past two weeks, to nearly 50,000; his Facebook followers now top 90,000.
Digital strategists said that one reason to use something other than a candidate’s main Facebook page to run ads is that the platform does throttle how repetitive an ad can become. Using different pages can help get around that limit. Mr Parscale, who served as digital director on the 2016 campaign and is an outspoken personality on the 2020 race, has also become something of a celebrity in Mr Trump’s political circles.
Still, Democratic strategists said they had never heard of using a campaign’s limited resources to promote the social media accounts of a campaign strategist.
“The ads may well be raising money for the Trump campaign,” said Andrew Bleeker, the president of the Democratic firm Bully Pulpit Interactive, “but certainly in the Democratic Party this would feel more like personal profiteering than in the interest of the campaign when you’re building up the audience of someone who is also the principal of a private marketing firm and wants to sell himself as an influence.”
Of Mr Parscale, he added: “He’s becoming a brand in his own right on Trump’s dime, and if there is ever a candidate who understands the value of personal branding and what that’s worth, it’s Donald Trump.”
The spending represents a small fraction of the millions that Mr Trump has been spending on Facebook, but it is still a significant sum of money in politics. The total the Trump campaign has spent on ads via Mr Parscale’s Facebook and Instagram pages in the past month, for instance, is more than many of the Senate Republicans facing re-election fights this fall have spent on the platform in the same time period, including senators Joni Ernst, Susan Collins, Cory Gardner and Martha McSally.
Facebook data does not make immediately clear what date the Trump campaign began spending to run ads via Mr Parscale’s Facebook page, but only about $37,000 (£29,814) of the more than $326,000 (£262,687) in ads ran before 30 May, records show. The ads are paid for both by the Trump re-election committee itself and a shared account with the Republican Tempemail Committee called the Trump Make America Great Again Committee.
Mr Parscale’s Facebook page had linked to his private consulting firm, Parscale Strategy, until recently; that link appears to have been removed after Mother Jones first pointed it out last week.
It is not uncommon for a campaign to use multiple Facebook accounts to run ads. For instance, senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, spent about $61,000 (£49,000) on ads in recent months through an account called “Wrong Path McGrath”, attacking the Democrat who on Tuesday became his general election opponent, Amy McGrath.
The Trump campaign has run ads through four other Facebook group pages: Team Trump, which has seen the most spending, Latinos for Trump, Black Voices for Trump and Women for Trump.
In the past 30 days, the Trump campaign has run more ads using Mr Parscale’s page than the Black Voices for Trump and Latinos for Trump pages combined.
Taryn Rosenkranz, a Democratic digital strategist, said she had not seen a campaign use a staff member’s page to run ads before. But she said that using multiple pages to serve ads on Facebook was one way around the site’s algorithm limiting how many ads can be delivered.
“It gets more bites at the apple,” she explained.
So far, Joe Biden’s campaign has not run any Facebook ads beyond those promoting Mr Biden’s main page.
Mr Parscale, who has been Mr Trump’s campaign manager since 2018, has come under some criticism recently, particularly for hyping the president’s recent rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that failed to fill an arena during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Trump has recently added some political reinforcements to the campaign, promoting Bill Stepien to deputy campaign manager, and making Stephanie Alexander the campaign chief of staff in March. Jason Miller, a veteran of the 2016 campaign, has returned in a senior role.
Whatever Mr Parscale’s future, an expanded social media footprint may be beneficial.
“He will be able to take his very valuable list of followers and monetize that in the future,” said Mark Jablonowski, the chief technology officer at the Democratic digital advertising firm DSPolitical.
New York Times