In the second half of 2020, Donald Trump’s reelection campaign shelled out seven figures to an influencer marketing business linked to his White House’s former chief digital officer.
Why it matters: The payments bought promotion from prominent conservative brands and social media personalities, showing how campaigns are exploring new, often more opaque digital advertising channels as large social media companies crack down on political ads.
What’s new: Filings with the Federal Election Commission show the Trump campaign paid nearly $1.8 million during the second half of 2020 to Legendary Campaigns LLC for “online advertising.”
- Legendary Campaigns is a "partner organization" of another company called Urban Legend Media, according to that firm's president, Sondra Clark.
- Until February 2020, Clark was the director of marketing and campaigns for the White House. Ory Rinat, who was the White House's chief digital officer until last June, is Urban Legend's CEO.
Urban Legend and Legendary Campaigns offer influencers fees in exchange for driving engagement — such as email signups, donations and purchases — for the firms' clients.
- Urban Legend's clients have included Heritage Action for America and the 2020 congressional campaign of Republican Angela Stanton-King of Georgia, according to public records and a company pitch deck obtained by Axios.
- The Trump campaign is the only federal political committee that has reported paying Legendary Campaigns, which Clark described as Urban Legend's politically focused affiliate.
- Clark and an Urban Legend spokesperson did not address more specific questions about the content Legendary Campaigns placed for the campaign, or the influencers it paid for that promotion.
- Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg used a similar platform to enlist paid influencers to promote his 2020 presidential campaign.
The bottom line: A campaign buying digital ads on platforms like Facebook and Instagram would generally have to disclose that spending publicly. Enlisting third-party creators makes political advertising harder to track.
- The Urban Legend pitch deck cited conservative influencer Rob Smith's work promoting Heritage Action's congressional scorecard last year. But a pair of Smith tweets aligned with that campaign contained no indication he was paid for the effort.
- Urban Legend requires its creators to comply with all relevant paid advertiser disclosure rules.
- Its brand of marketing nonetheless makes it more difficult to determine what social media content, or how much of it, Legendary Campaigns helped produce for the Trump campaign.