The following article in POLITICO ran October 30, 2019 and features the launch of Narrative Advertising, a new division of Mothership Strategies focused exclusively on advertising and paid communications for Democratic candidates and progressive organizations.
Mothership Strategies launches digital advertising arm
By Zach Montellaro
10/30/2019 05:01 AM EDT
Mothership Strategies, the Democratic digital fundraising firm best known for its aggressive emails beseeching donors to cough up cash, is launching Narrative, a new arm of the firm focused on persuasion advertising.
The new agency comes as prominent Democrats continue to fret about being outspent and outmaneuvered online by Republicans, even as Republicans worry about the massive sums that Democrats are able to raise via online fundraising.
“We used to have the lead on digital for years,” said Greg Berlin, one of the founders of Mothership. “And on fundraising, Democrats bought in fully — that’s obvious. And Democrats are still bought in. But when it comes to paid digital communications, Democrats have essentially ceded all of the ground to Republicans.”
Persuasion ads are, broadly, ads that either communicate a specific message to voters. The firm will also work on get-out-the-vote advertising.
Many digital-focused Democrats said their disadvantage at online advertising did not start in 2016, but worry the problem could be exacerbated by President Donald Trump’s campaign intense focus on online digital advertising.
“We should all expect, and we’re already seeing it, the massive spending Trump is doing at the digital level will transition to communicating with voters,” and not just focus on fundraising, said Andy Amsler, a principal at Narrative. “If we’re still at the same place we were last cycle … then we’re at a competitive disadvantage.”
Berlin said recent reports on digital ad spending — like Facebook’s regularly updated ad archive — can lure Democrats into a false sense of security. The reports show that while Trump typically outspends every other campaign, Democrats spend more collectively.
But Berlin said that’s misleading because Democrats typically spend a higher percentage of their digital advertising budgets on fundraising, and a lower percentage on persuasion, than Republicans.
Narrative published an analysis of three competitive 2018 races — Arizona, Florida and Texas — that showed the Republican candidate spending much more, as a percentage, of their ad digital budget on persuasion ads than Democrats. The Republicans analyzed spent no less than 90 percent of their total digital spend on persuasion ads, according to the analysis, while Democrats spent no more than 75 percent. Some of that speaks to lower online fundraising rates on the GOP side, but Democrats still worry about the digital gap in persuasion ads.
Berlin and Amsler also said a goal of Narrative will be to ensure digital teams have a seat at the messaging table. “Too often — and folks around the industry will say the same thing — [digital is] viewed as the extra boost” in a communications plan, compared to television or other channels, Berlin said. “But digital is not the extra boost, it is one of the core messaging [channels] to talk to voters.”
Mothership is known for the often-alarmist fundraising pitches they make for candidates, that include all-caps words in a subject line and urgent pleas for money. Amsler said that they’ve learned both from advertising testing and their fundraising work, and that their creative will “look different” from the typical digital ad Democrats run.
“We are an industry leader and our reputation is well established on the fundraising side,” Amsler said. “The conversion tactics that get someone to donate in a lot of cases resemble the tactics that get people to vote.”