It’s a big day for President Donald Trump. And he’s bought nearly $1 million in Facebook ads to make sure it goes off with a bang.
Trump turns 73 on Friday — or 72, if you believe a few of the nearly 10,000 ads his Facebook page has pushed out in recent months. Graced with images of a grinning Trump or his family, they’ve urged users to sign a card to commemorate No. 45 getting one year older.
“🛑 HURRY! President Trump's birthday is TOMORROW! 🛑” read one ad purchased Wednesday, two days before Trump’s birthday. “He’ll read the name of every supporter who signs his card when we present it to him on his birthday. Will he see your name?”
Probably not. But his campaign, which has made Trump’s birthday central to its early 2020 media strategy, certainly will.
The users who click through to sign such “cards” have offered gobs of contact information to help the president’s re-election effort build out voter lists that will be crucial to raising money. Imposing an arbitrary deadline for supporters to act, the birthday ads have been essential to a digitally savvy Trump campaign that strategists say has built out a sizable early lead over Democrats in collecting voter data.
“If you can figure out how to have more than one birthday in a year, you’d be golden,” said Marne Pike, CEO of Veracity Media, a progressive digital strategy firm that focuses on House and Senate races. “Signing a birthday card is something that doesn’t seem like taking a political stance. It’s another way to bring people into the fold who wouldn’t otherwise be engaged.”
Pike and other strategists warn that the Trump campaign’s flood-the-zone approach far outpaces any digital efforts in the sprawling and fragmented Democratic field. The $5.5 million it has thrown at Facebook so far this year dwarfs the top four highest-spending Democrats, according to data compiled by the nonprofit digital organization Acronym. It’s allowed the president to get a headstart in small-dollar fundraising and begin testing its message on select segments of Facebook users at a rapid-fire clip.
But Trump’s birthday card has so far comprised the core of that vaunted digital operation. Facebook data crunched by the digital strategy firm Bully Pulpit Interactive suggest that between March 30 and June 1, his campaign spent more money on birthday-related Facebook ads — $752,000 — than any other candidate spent on ads about any other specific topic. The only other keyword with more money behind it on Facebook during that span? Trump ads featuring “Trump.”
The birthday list-building extravaganza has been a first family affair as well. Eric Trump urged supporters in a June 6 text alert to “be one of the 1ST to sign my father’s Official Birthday Card.” His wife, Lara Trump, sent her own reminder in a text on Wednesday: “Your name is MISSING!” And Donald Trump Jr. added Thursday, “I know he wants to hear from you, friend.”
Melania Trump also got in on the action. In the leadup to the First Lady’s birthday this spring, the president’s Facebook page pumped out roughly 3,300 ads for her birthday card. The posts overwhelmingly targeted women in southern and Midwestern states, according to Facebook’s Ad Library.
“🛑 Attention Ladies in Richmond Heights 🛑,” read one ad targeting female users in a Missouri town of less than 9,000 residents. “Our FANTASTIC First Lady Melania’s birthday is in 3 days, and I want to do something special for her.”
Facebook removed some of the ads for Melania Trump’s surprise gift, but did not immediately respond for VICE News’ request for comment on which policy they violated.
Trump family cards are so popular that other Republicans thirsty for email signups have likewise turned to them on Facebook. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) have all put money behind their excitement for the president or First Lady’s birthdays. They haven’t shown similar enthusiasm for blowing out their own candles.
The National Republican Congressional Committee went so far as to buy more than 220 Facebook ads alerting users that Melania Trump’s big day was “coming up” last September. The First Lady’s birthday is April 26.
As for the president’s celebration Friday, Trump campaign spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany did not respond to VICE News’ questions about whether he will actually receive a physical card from his legions of Facebook supporters.
Cover: U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a working lunch with governors on workforce freedom and mobility in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC on June 13, 2019. (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)