Gini Dietrich

How Trump’s Campaign is Killing it at Digital Marketing

By: Gini Dietrich | November 1, 2016 | 

How Trump's Campaign is Killing it at Digital MarketingLet’s set aside politics for a second and talk about something fascinating, shall we?

Trump’s campaign is killing it at digital marketing and I am astounded.


I had no idea they were this smart and I’m kind of impressed.

Last week, a Bloomberg journalist was given a very unusual peek behind the curtains and what they found will also astound you.

Sometimes Expertise Beats Experience

In San Antonio, there is a nerve center that handles all of the digital marketing for the campaign…and it’s led by novices.

It’s run by Brad Parscale, a political novice who built web pages for the Trump family’s business and charities.

The story goes like this…

One day in 2010, Parscale was asked if he wanted to bid on building the Trump website.

In the Bloomberg article, Parscale relays what happened:

I said yeah and bid $10,000 on the first website. I think they were shocked how cheap it was. Next thing I know, I’m talking to Ivanka. So they signed a contract with me, and I wrote the website by myself. I told ’em I’d give all the money back if they didn’t like it.

The Trumps liked the website and Parscale kept the money.

He continued to build sites for the family and, when Trump launched a presidential exploratory committee, he called on Parscale.

He built the site for $1,500.

By then he had partnered with a local designer and was running a shop called Giles-Parscale.

Today he’s running a 100-person digital marketing operation for Trump’s campaign.

How to Discover Your Prospects

As Parscale got more involved in the day-to-day operations, he discovered the campaign was speaking solely to those who already liked and supported Trump.

Just like you would with any digital marketing strategy, Parscale led his team to discover undecided voters to begin to sway their decisions.

Because the campaign hadn’t cultivated Trump’s supporters as donors or volunteers, most of what it knew about them came from requests for tickets to his rallies.

They used EventBrite as their ticketing and RSVP system and weren’t able to get the kind of information they needed from it.

So they built their own…and suddenly they had a system that not only collected email addresses, but contact information and credit card numbers.

It also had an added layer that would weed out protestor requests and collect supporters’ phone numbers.

Through this new system Parscale built, they identified 13.5 million undecided voters in 16 battleground states.

While they did have some of the information they needed on undecided voters, they also bought email lists from Newt Gingrich and Tea Party groups to prospect for others.

The Digital Marketing Campaign

And so began their digital marketing campaign.

As they began to build Facebook ads, they tested different calls-to-action.

Some linked directly to a payment page while others to a sign-up page that asked for name, email, and address.

Parscale also created A/B testing among design shops to help determine which social media ads were the most effective.

In a reality show-style approach, those companies that fared the worst in drumming up donors, lost their contracts with the campaign.

Today, his team spends $70 million per month to cultivate a universe of millions of fervent Trump supporters.

Most of them are reached through “dark” posts on Facebook.

Email Addresses Represent the Golden Ticket

They expect to have 14 million email addresses by campaign day.

To put that in perspective, the Republican National Committee has only six million email addresses.

And, because he funded his own campaign, all of this belongs to him after November 8. 

Only time will tell what happens on election day, but rumor has it these email addresses will be used to launch a Trump TV network.

As digital marketers, we know an email address is worth $3-$8.

This puts his list worth anywhere between $42 and $112 million.

That’s more than enough to build a business, starting on November 9.

And it’s more than enough to learn a lot about how to run a digital marketing campaign.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Aysegul

    Very interesting. Though I cannot stand him or anything to do with his campaign, your analysis of his campaign (once again) proves that he won no matter what happens on Nov 8th.

    • I know! I didn’t want to read the article for that very reason. And then I was sucked in and super impressed. I really had no idea they were this smart.

      • Alina Kelly

        Agree – love your piece Gini.

  • When you sent us the article I was stunned!

    It makes you wonder if this was his goal from the very beginning. Winning the elections would probably be like a bonus or something.

    • Alina Kelly

      I have wondered if winning the election was never actually the goal. The “President” job – at least the way it’s been described historically – comes with a lot of work I can’t imagine someone like Trump being interested in doing. Should he win, I predict a thorough rewrite of the job description for POTUS.

      • It would make sense that winning the election would not be his end goal…until maybe a few months ago when he realized he might actually do it.

        But our Constitution is written in such a way that does not allow for his style of management or dictatorship. That said, to have an end game that looks like a Trump T Network is pretty interesting…even though most of us could not care to ever hear his name again.

  • I’m not too sure it is great marketing.

    They say they put filters in place to stop protesters, but I know a good few hundred people (myself included) who registered with Eventbrite to take up tickets that we had no intention of using, we just wanted empty space at the events.

    Email list buying is dodgy. While not technically illegal, the FTC advises the risks and why you wouldn’t want to buy lists (may have opted out from your company/business, or they’ve been harvested illegally.

    And as an example, I signed up for the list to implement the Eventbrite stuff, and I tried to opt-out three times. Each time, I got a new email, breaking the CASL legislation for Canadian consumers receiving emails (even from companies not in Canada).

    Given it’s up to $10 million in fines for each example, Trump’s super smart team could cost him heavily.

    Then again, if you’re willing to do business with someone as loathsome as Trump, maybe you deserve all the fines you could receive. Some “business people” are beyond working for, ethically and morally.

    At least Parscale got paid, it seems, unlike so many others that have worked for Trump.

    • It’s a different ballgame in politics in the U.S. They buy email lists. They spam the crap out of people. They subscribe you to stuff you don’t want. It drives me mad, but they live under different rules than the rest of us.

      The big reason I said “putting politics aside” when I wrote this is to do exactly that. I agree with everything you’ve said. I also cannot stand the man.

      What’s interesting to me, though, it they DID figure out that people were doing what you describe through EventBrite so they built their own program, bypassing them entirely. And it’s interesting that they’ve found 13.5 million undecided voters and are sending them dark Facebook ads.

      If you think about that from a business perspective, finding your prospects or those who do business with your competition versus catering to those who already buy from you is really interesting.

      They were super late out of the gate—and they’re not ethical—but the whole strategy to build a database is pretty darn impressive.

  • Betsy A Decillis

    There are quite a few mis-steps in his digital marketing as well. Like they left quite a few digital properties out there for the taking. It’s political digital marketing 101 to grab up every possible url.

    • From what I can tell, they didn’t really start thinking about digital marketing until June. Yes, four months ago. So it makes sense that all of that was eaten up.

  • All politics aside, this is impressive!

    • I think so, too. If you apply it to your own digital marketing strategy, there is A LOT you can learn.

  • Travis Peterson

    It’s pretty fascinating how quickly the technology has evolved for political campaigns to do this. From John McCain’s first $1M online fundraising night (in 2008 I think?) to Obama’s massive grassroots network to now Trump – who could basically whip up 15M email addresses in a quarter. Amazing.

    • And you should see what Kelly is doing with low-dollar donors. It’s kind of infuriating.

  • Sue Duris

    Gini – first of all, good luck tonight. Second of all, great post on Trump’s digital marketing operation. I don’t know whether you saw the ObamaCare interactive ad posted on his Twitter, it is quite powerful.

  • Darryl Robinson-Keys

    An unsavory character with a very savvy digital marketing campaign, this will make one very interesting case study and probably become a rule book for how to conduct Digi-Political campaigns in the future. Win or Lose. Very interesting indeed.

    • I know! I hate to give him good mentions at all. But, it really isn’t Trump who is doing this. It’s Parscale. And the dude is impressive.

  • Do we know if this worked? You know stats! 8)

    Because to me the main stream media sharing all his tweets was the real driver. No one else had such amplification.

    • Well, they have 14 million email addresses…in just four months. That is astounding, in and of itself. And then when you add in how much that could be worth, revenue-wise, it’s nothing to sneeze at. Of course, we won’t know until next week if it worked to get him elected (I HOPE NOT!), but I also saw a stat that showed, if you look at media mentions alone, he’s KILLING Hillary…by billions of dollars.

      • So I posted a link above. What I found was they paid for the email addresses reading the Bloomberg article, Trump has 11m FB fans to Hillary 7m. Hers are more active 1 action x 19 days Trumps 1 action x 26 days. We have no idea how many are fans of both.

        But yes will see next week. The email uproar is STUPID. Why can’t she turn this around. Why did she not demand all of Trumps work emails from 2008-2012. If the question is about mishandling secret info that is BS. She would never knowingly do this and everyone in Government mishandles classified info at some point. So curious what in her day to day job would cause her to be in trouble?

        Lastly in 2008 IPhone was not the big phone and email was only being used in Govt for 12 years at that point!

        Get over the emails! But seriously why isnt she demanding his!?

  • Great analysis by Gini Dietrich. Say what you want about the Donald; he has a knack for finding staff whose expertise he mercilessly taps. If they succeed and stay aligned with Trump’s messaging, they stay. If not, they’re gone.


    looks like Big O torched Trump on digital/small donor fundraising. not sure the exact breakdown but even if he only raised half that way he had $550m raised,,,in 2012 dollars. Today might be equal to 570m

    but impressed with what they did but bet the fb thing fades. we rarely go directly to brand pages so when they stop paying to be seen their impact will drop there.