How Agile Helped Elect Donald Trump

The idea of democracy is that voters will compare the candidates and select the better on the merits of their respective campaigns. But what if the outcome reflects better use of technology, independent of the merits? In 2012, Democrats celebrated the Obama campaign’s smarter use technology that helped lead to victory. But in 2018, the shoe was on the other foot, as the Trump campaign is being hailed for nimbler use of technology, specifically the “test, learn, adapt” approach that exemplifies Agile management.

The Trump Campaign On Facebook

In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Trump campaign spent about 50% more in Facebook ads, but more importantly, tested almost 90 times the number of ad variations. Thus “Clinton spent $28 million from June to November 2016, while testing 66,000 different ads,” Bloomberg has reported. “In comparison, Trump spent $44 million in that period and tested 5.9 million versions of ads, suggesting his campaign’s Facebook strategy “was more complex than Clinton’s and better leveraged Facebook’s ability to optimize for outcomes.”

Trump 2016 campaign digital director Brad Parscale explained on 60 Minutes last year that the campaign “obsessively tested ad creative and messaging — up to 100,000 different versions per day of different ads. That involved “changing language, words, colors, changing things because certain people like a green button better than a blue button,” he explained, outlining the automated alterations that were made to spit out different versions of an ad. “Some people like the word ‘donate’ or ‘contribute.’”

The Trump campaign not only tested many more variants of its messages: the campaign was more tightly focused on achieving impact. Thus, “Trump’s campaign was more focused on finding new donors, according to Bloomberg, while Clinton’s campaign concentrated more on enhancing Clinton’s appeal as a candidate. “84% of Trump’s budget asked people on Facebook to take an action, like donating, compared with 56% of Clinton’s.”

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Facebook said it “provided advice on best practices including insights on which ad formats were generating the best performance results and how to use their insights to determine best strategies.” The company also noted that most of the work of building and scaling ad campaigns was executed by “third-party vendors.”

Facebook told Buzzfeed that “it offered the same level of support to both campaigns.” But Facebook’s internal memos suggest that the Trump campaign used those tools to greater effect. In fact, Facebook embraced the methods it learned from the Trump campaign to enhance the Agile marketing model that it calls “Test, Learn, Adapt” to assess its own advertising.

For instance, Facebook has adopted lessons from the Trump campaign for its current “Here Now” effort, a multimillion-dollar advertising push to alleviate users’ concerns about privacy and the misinformation that clutters the platform. In addition to primetime television spots and “False news is not your friends” ads on Facebook itself have been fed to users calibrated with the help of the TLA ad-testing methodology.

August 18, 2018
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