Joe Biden spent more money on advertising than any election candidate in U.S. history. He spent $640 million on traditional media, $103 million with Facebook and $83 million with Google. Here's a look at the five most important ways Biden used advertising to help win the presidency.
1 Secure the base
This ad was one of the first that Biden ran upon winning the contest to become the Democratic Party candidate for the presidency.
After any competitive primary, the first job of the winner is to heal any wounds caused by the internal battle.
The collectivist language and youthful tone is aimed squarely at the supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who was Biden’s main competitor in the primary election.
At the start of Biden’s campaign, there were question marks over whether the 77-year-old would be able to unify and energize his core supporters to turn out in big numbers. But ads like this did a brilliant job of doing just that.
Had Biden faltered in this regard, he would have lost. Donald Trump remained able to fire up his base after four years in the White House; he ended up winning the highest number of votes of any Republican presidential candidate in history.
2 A consistent narrative
Biden had a simple and consistent narrative theme that he threaded through his campaign from start to finish: "decency versus division."
This was a clever narrative as Biden was able to own a position of “decency” as the majority of the public viewed him as likeable and trustworthy.
Trump, on the other hand, was fairly universally seen as divisive.
And the public was yearning for an end to the sense of cultural conflict that has been pervading the U.S. in recent years.
This advertisement is a neat summary of that narrative; it emotively reminds people of what they already think of each candidate and then promises them something they want.
3 Covid incompetence
When COVID-19 hit the U.S., it was immediately obvious that voters’ perceptions of Trump’s management of the crisis would have a significant bearing on the outcome of the election.
The pandemic is the ultimate test of competency: a major problem facing the entire country where the population’s physical, mental and economic health are largely in the hands of the government.
As the pandemic is global in nature, Biden cleverly used advertising to contrast Trump’s actions and outcomes with those of comparable countries in order to give voters factual evidence of the incumbent president’s lack of capability.
There was one supremely important policy area where Trump regularly led Biden: management of the economy.
Biden chipped away at that lead by criticizing the president for overseeing record levels of unemployment.
This advertisement ran on social media. The scrolling nature of the video footage cleverly captures the viewer’s attention and enables Team Biden to evidence U.S.’s unprecedented levels of job losses under Trump.
“Winning the air war” in election campaigns now requires candidates to earn a disproportionate share of voters’ social media feeds.
Trump is an attention-generation machine and in general Biden struggled to match the Republican’s level of reach and engagement on social media.
However, there was one social content theme that got Team Biden lots of social shares, beyond just the politically interested, while reinforcing their key narrative around kindness.
Trump was the first president in a century who didn’t have a canine in the White House. Biden planned to bring in two if elected.
This social ad is one of many that made the point that Biden would bring both dogs and decency back to the White House.
Arguing that Biden’s dogs were a serious strategic imperative might sound absurd, but do you think more people in the U.S. searched online for “Biden dog” or “Biden economy?"
The five ways Biden used advertising highlighted here is a small selection; it was also deployed very effectively to raise money, recruit volunteers, rebut attacks from Trump, encourage postal votes, and the list could go on.
There were more channels used, more ad executions run and more money spent than ever before in a U.S. election.
As Trump has only served one term as president, he is able to run again in 2024. Biden is set to be the oldest president in U.S. history, and so many wonder if he will seek re-election.
The future of U.S. politics is both fascinating and uncertain.
But one thing that’s for sure is that advertising will continue to play an ever-increasing role in the success or failure of those seeking election.
Benedict Pringle is founder of politicaladvertising.co.uk
Photo credit: Getty Images
This story first appeared on campaignlive.co.uk.