“For a long time, Trump was running an intensive campaign that no one was paying attention to,” said Mike Schneider, a partner at Bully Pulpit Interactive, a Democratic political and brand communications firm that is tracking Facebook spending by the presidential candidates.
“And while Democrats have picked up their efforts, they’re fighting over the same group of supporters while he’s broadly expanding his base,” Mr. Schneider said.
Much of Trump’s spending on Facebook advertising in recent weeks has gone toward ads that have been seen by older Americans, particularly women 55 and older, according to an analysis by Bully Pulpit.
Older voters are an important constituency for Trump, having favored him over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, according to exit polls. Trump also has reason to want to shore up his standing with women, as white women shifted leftward in the midterm elections.
Trump can pour millions into Facebook advertising because he has a big fund-raising head start over even the best-funded Democratic candidates. He ended the first quarter of the year with about $41 million in cash on hand, far more than the leading Democratic fund-raiser, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
The Trump campaign received widespread attention for its aggressive use of Facebook in the 2016 election.
In interviews after the 2016 victory, Brad Parscale, who was the campaign’s digital director, described how the Trump campaign sought to make the most of Facebook to reach prospective supporters. Facebook ads make it possible to reach places “that you would never go with TV ads,” Mr. Parscale said in a 2017 interview on “60 Minutes.”
To maximize the effectiveness of its advertising, the Trump campaign used tens of thousands of different ad variations on any given day, said Mr. Parscale, who is now managing Trump’s re-election bid.
“Changing language, words, colors, changing things because certain people like a green button better than a blue button,” he said. “Some people like the word ‘donate’ over ‘contribute.’”
Campaign officials say that their strategy will expand upon what they did in 2016, not only with Facebook but with other online platforms where voters are consuming news as well. The campaign has found that voters it wants to target are also spending a significant amount of time getting information on YouTube, according to an official.
The campaign anticipates spending hundreds of millions of dollars on its online strategy for the 2020 election, officials said.
Many of the Trump campaign’s ads on Facebook are designed to get users to provide their contact information and expand the size of the campaign’s already enormous list of supporters. Others
solicit donations or peddle Trump merchandise.
“Facebook ads are a really valuable source for building your email list, and the more emails you have on your list, the more money you’re going to raise online,” said Eric Wilson, a Republican digital strategist. “There’s a direct through line to resources for the campaign.”
Recently, the Trump campaign has spent heavily on one subject in particular: the president’s birthday.
Trump turns 73 next month, and his campaign has run an assortment of ads asking people to sign a birthday card for him. The ads vary in their words and visuals. Some show a young man in a party hat being embraced by friends bearing gifts and balloons; others
show a woman holding a birthday cake, candles ablaze. Still more just show Trump.
Curiously, many of the ads say, incorrectly, that he will be turning 72.