Warren campaign details first-ever television ad buys in a new memo

The memo gave a preview of the Warren campaign's goals heading into the fall.

September 24, 2019, 5:57 PM

Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is making a major investment in her first set of television ads in the presidential race, marking a new phase of her campaign focused on reaching out to a wider span of voters.

Warren’s campaign is buying ads in the first states in the nation to vote — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — and plans to spend eight figures on both television and digital ads as they head into the fall, according to a memo from campaign manager Roger Lau that was sent to supporters on Tuesday morning.

It’s one of the largest investments in media advertising announced by any of the presidential campaigns in the cycle thus far.

Warren, who has seen a steady rise in the polls over the summer months paired with successful debate performances and large turnout at recent rallies, hit a new peak over the weekend when she came the closest yet with front runner Joe Biden in an Iowa poll since the race began. Released last weekend, the poll from the Des Moines Register and CNN showed a virtual tie, with Warren holding onto a two-point lead over Biden but within the margin of error. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders fell to a distant third.

"We're launching an eight-figure digital and TV advertising campaign in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina to make sure we're getting Elizabeth's plans for big, structural change in front of voters and caucus-goers," Lau wrote in the memo. "If you've been to one of our campaign events in the early states or across the country, chances are you might be part of our ads."

The campaign did not give a breakdown of how much of the eight-figure budget would go toward which type of media — or how many tens of millions they would sink into the effort — but Lau wrote in the memo that they planned to spend more on "digital than old-school broadcast television."

Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks during the Polk County Steak Fry at the Water Works Park in Des Moines, Iowa, Sept. 21, 2019.
Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/Sipa via Newscom

The memo included three "samples" of what the ads will look like. Each focus on corruption, flashing clips of President Donald Trump, and her plans to "fix it."

"I know what’s wrong, I know how to fix it," Warren says in the ads. Most include shots of some of her biggest rallies, mixed with more intimate shots of her and supporters on farms or in their homes.

The decision to spend more online highlights a trend of the 2020 cycle to put more money into reaching voters on social platforms, which allow campaigns to pick and choose who they target, rather than traditional TV, which is a more blanket medium that hits anyone tuned into the channel when it airs.

So far, the only other Democratic candidate who has spent eight figures on digital and television ads is billionaire candidate Tom Steyer, who has spent over $18.5 million, with about $11.4 million of that going to television air time and $7.1 million on online ads.

In comparison, Warren, as of last week, has spent just under $5 million on Facebook and Google ads, according to digital ad transparency data.

In total, Democratic presidential hopefuls’ ad spending has reached $55 million, with more than $42 million going into online ads and at least $13 million on television ads from eight candidates that have already gone on air, according to CMAG television ad data.

And Warren isn’t the only one in the 2020 Democratic field to ramp up the on-air battle this month. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet launched his first television ad campaign last week, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Monday launched a new television ad, purchasing $160,000 worth of air time for the week, according to ad service firm Advertising Analytics.

The television run for the Warren campaign will be the first test of their unique decision to forgo the typically-used consultants for media and instead build an in-house group of about 15 video and media staffers who shoot and produce all of their ads.

In the memo to supporters, Lau expanded on the initial decision to make their ads differently, which he said was made as a courtesy to their grassroots donors.

Senator Elizabeth Warren joins members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) and supporters as they picket outside of General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly in Detroit, Michigan, as they strike on September 22, 2019.
Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images

"Because we're 100% grassroots funded, we've built our team to spend your dollars as effectively as possible to help deliver victory," he wrote, adding that the campaign has "built an in-house staff to produce videos and ads rather than adopt the consultant-driven approach of other campaigns (and the big commissions and fees that come along with it)."

Lau also previewed a shift in spending for the campaign, which has spent the last few months using a large chunk of funds raised to build up one of the most robust staffs in the race, largely in early states.

Now, Lau noted, the majority of spending will be going toward ads.

"Right now, our biggest expense as a campaign is our staff, but as the campaign heats up, it will be on media to reach potential voters," Lau wrote.

A close look at the campaign’s spending habits showed this shift is already in motion.

After spending over 41% of the campaign’s money on staff in the first three months of the campaign, Warren spent slightly less on staff in the second three months of the campaign, while investing more on media, an ABC News analysis showed.

By the end of June, the campaign had just over 300 people on staff.

They do, however, still plan to increase staffing in new parts of the country, Lau wrote Tuesday, indicating that the campaign would still be spending on new hires even as it increases its spending on ads.

"We're hiring state directors and organizers in a number of states that have primaries and caucuses in March," Lau wrote, including a mix of states like Texas, Florida, Michigan and Minnesota, which he noted are important states in the effort to flip the country blue.

The wide-reaching effort to secure a Democrat-controlled Congress would be key in the uphill battle Warren would face in passing many of her progressive plans, were she to be elected.

"Remember: this election is about more than just beating Donald Trump — he's just the worst symptom of a corrupt system. If we want to make big, structural change, we need to make sure Democrats control the U.S. House and Senate and win important gubernatorial and state legislative races across the country," Lau said.

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