(WASHINGTON) — While President Donald Trump delivered a fiery speech at his South Carolina rally Friday night, blasting Democrats and defending his administration’s coronavirus response, his campaign was working to turn the event into a locally focused TV ad that will soon run in the area.
It’s part of the re-election team’s new strategy to flip the president’s sprawling campaign rallies into locally centered TV ads that air days after his road show has left town. The strategy is geared toward further extending the reach and media attention that Trump rallies already generate.
The campaign has produced and run six-figure ad buys after rallies in New Hampshire, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado — with plans to roll run another local ad highlighting Trump’s North Charleston rally, a senior Trump campaign official told ABC News. The president tweeted out a version of the South Carolina ad but the campaign hasn’t announced its placement or a buy yet.
According to ad service firm CMAG, the Trump campaign placed a $139,000 ad buy in Nevada to run over the next two weeks, and spent $188,760 in Colorado for the week of Feb. 25-Mar. 2.
The ads themselves serve as a 90-second highlight reel recapping each rally, carefully curated by the campaign to air in local markets. They promote issues specific to each state like immigration in Nevada and record low unemployment in South Carolina. The Arizona ad features the viral video of a World War II veteran being carried to his seat at the Phoenix Trump rally.
The new ads mostly omit the attacks the president heaves at his Democratic rivals, and instead showcase interviews conducted by the campaign with supporters, as well as local news coverage, while sticking mostly to pre-written sections of the president’s stump speech — shying away from highlighting the president’s off-script and polarizing moments.
“It is an interesting way to keep the campaign’s message on track,” Vanderbilt political scientist John Geer, whose research focuses on political advertising, told ABC News. “It is also an approach that works better for the president, since he often steps on his message.”
Geer also questioned the ads’ impact, given that voters’ views of Trump are largely set.
“If you consider what happened in South Carolina, Tom Steyer would certainly question the power of ads, in general, to influence the public,” Geer said, pointing out that the billionaire massively outspent Joe Biden in the state, only to see the former vice president get four times the vote he did.
However, the Trump campaign has said they’ve yet to fully dive into their planned persuasion ad plan.
“We haven’t even really started — we haven’t run $1 of persuasion advertising, really. We’ve done some but like nothing like what we’re going to do over the next six months,” a senior Trump campaign official said.
And while locally focused ads aren’t a new strategy for a presidential campaign, the new ads are the latest way the Trump campaign has found to extend the impact and maximize the return on investment of the president’s rallies.
“We just continue to try to get every ounce of value out of the rallies,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told ABC News. “We know there are many thousands of people who were unable to get inside the rally and we want to make sure they could share in the excitement a little bit.”
The campaign views the president’s rallies as more than just one-day events. Top surrogates like Vice President Mike Pence or Donald Trump Jr. hold local events in the days leading up to the rally, campaign staff travel the day before and flood the local media markets — and now, in the days following the event, the campaign runs a local TV ad that was shot entirely at the rally in that market.
And with each rally, the campaign also collects troves of data through everything from online ticket requests to selling merchandise inside the arena — which can sometimes inform the team where to head next.
After holding a rally in El Paso, Texas, in early 2019, the campaign said they noticed a large number of supporters coming over from New Mexico for the event — and a few weeks later the president was in Rio Rancho.
While Trump’s re-election campaign has traded the retail politics of diner stops for rock concert-style rallies, the president is set to take part in his first town hall of the election cycle next week on FOX News.
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