Bernie Sanders Is Following Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Lead With ‘TV-Quality’ Digital Campaign Ads

A new spot in Iowa shows its deep investment compared to four years ago

Sanders' 2020 campaign is prioritizing quality filmmaking for its social advertising. Bernie Sanders Campaign

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign is approaching digital advertising this time around in a whole new way compared to his 2016 strategy. A new ad targeting Iowa voters—released today on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter—is just one example of how the campaign has prioritized creating videos that are of “TV-quality,” said Bernie 2020 digital communications director Josh Miller-Lewis.

A small team of embedded videographers travel with the candidate.
Sanders 2020 Campaign

The campaign has embedded a small team on the candidate’s campaign trail, which allows for the advertisements to be made faster and cheaper than if they were to be contracted out. “Our entire digital campaign is focused around telling these stories and highlighting the people and the movement,” Miller-Lewis said.

The campaign’s small video team is comprised of staffers including a former employee of NowThis, a digital media company that prioritizes video content, those with backgrounds in creating political ads and employees from Sanders’ senate office. They travel with the candidate constantly searching for ad-worthy moments on the trail.

In part, the campaign’s digital strategy is to allow for the spots to run much longer than the average 30-second TV commercial (the new ad runs for more than three minutes), and tell an actual story. It’s a page taken from now-Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s playbook. Her campaign gained significant traction after her splashy intro video went viral.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez didn’t involve any consultants in the making of her film, and she wrote the script herself. Trying to chase that AOC methodology is on the minds of Sanders’ campaign. “What she did effectively is definitely part of the inspiration for what we’re doing,” Miller-Lewis said.

The team is intended to make "TV-quality" ads for social media feeds.
Sanders 2020 campaign

The campaign’s new spot for Iowa, for example, tells the story of a local farmer. He opens the video outside presumably on his own sunny farm to say: “Rural America, as it is, is dying.” He goes on to explain the unfair advantages big corporate farms see over small locally owned businesses. “We are being taken advantage of. We need change out here,” as the camera cuts to a shot of him applauding Sanders. “And that word is associated with Sen. Sanders on everything.” Sanders promises in the clip to not “write off rural America.”

The campaign hasn’t yet released a linear TV ad; instead Sanders’ campaign has used this time in the already crowded field of 23 major Democratic candidates to use social media platforms to spread its message. “We have the ability to speak to millions of people using the social media platforms, and it’s going to change the ballgame,” Miller-Lewis said.

According to a New York Times analysis of ad spend among the 2020 campaigns, Sanders was the Democratic candidate who spent the fourth-highest on Facebook and Instagram ads. But all candidates individual spends so far paled in comparison to President Donald Trump’s $5 million spent on advertising on the social media platforms (collectively, Democratic candidates have now almost doubled Trump’s Facebook spend).

“I don’t think you can beat Trump unless you can compete with him on social media. And Bernie is in a unique position because he has built up the platforms over time to compete with Trump online,” Miller-Lewis said. “We have to capitalize on that. Our digital strategy, our video strategy, the ad strategy is meant to take advantage of the opportunity that we have with the size of the platform we have.”

@SaraJerde Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.