Trump and Biden are advertising in Utah, but it’s not to win votes

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) President Donald Trump speaks during an event on judicial appointments, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Washington.

Utah may not be one of the handful of states that will decide the 2020 election. But that doesn’t mean we have escaped the attention of the presidential candidates.

Two super PACs supporting President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden have spent nearly $300,000 on digital advertising in Utah within the last month, with more likely on the way.

A breakdown of advertising provided to The Salt Lake Tribune by Advertising Analytics shows the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, which is a joint fundraising effort of Trump’s presidential campaign and the Republican National Committee, spent $190,000 on digital ads in Utah in August. The Biden Victory Fund, which is the Democratic joint fundraising counterpart, dropped nearly $91,000 on digital advertising here during the same time period.

Does this signal the campaigns see an opportunity to pick up votes in Utah in November? Does the Biden campaign smell an upset brewing? Not likely.

Utah has been reliably Republican since 1968, going for the GOP candidate in the past 13 elections. This November should make it 14 in a row. FiveThirtyEight.com shows Trump with an 11.5 percentage point lead over Biden in their average of Utah polling.

What’s more likely is the advertising is meant to boost their fundraising efforts and find new donors for the campaign. As they say, you got to spend money to make money. These kinds of digital ads are targeted more broadly than focusing on a specific regional message. Often they’re aimed at their base of voters with messages asking people to “show their support” by texting or clicking on a link, which leads to a fundraising appeal.

More curious, though, is a TV ad purchase from the Trump campaign last week. The ads ran mostly during local newscasts on multiple broadcast and television stations in the Salt Lake City market. Those ads were “direct response” ads targeted at fundraising. The Trump campaign ran several in Republican states in the west, including Wyoming and Idaho during that timeframe. The Utah ad buy was modest, totaling just under $10,000 according to Medium Buying. So far, neither campaign has reserved any more television time in Utah ahead of November.

The Utah fundraising push by Trump is not surprising, given recent reports that the president’s campaign is struggling financially. The Biden campaign outraised Trump’s in August by $150 million. In response, Trump is reportedly considering putting up to $100 million of his own money into the race during the stretch run to November. The New York Times reported this week that the Trump campaign has burned through $800 million of the $1.1 billion in campaign cash it has raised since the beginning of 2019.

Digital advertising is an innovative, and cheap, way to get your message to voters. Online ads on Facebook, YouTube and other digital platforms can cost pennies while allowing campaigns to target viewers by geography, interests or even what kind of movies they like. Additionally, these kinds of ads can be produced quickly and swapped out without much fuss.

For example, Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox spent $822,000 on advertising during his successful campaign to win the Republican nomination for governor. Two-thirds of that total, $551,000, went toward digital ads on Facebook and YouTube. His opponents focused their messaging efforts on the more traditional, and more expensive, television.

Digital advertising can deliver a big bang for the buck for campaigns. One ad from the Trump committee cost just over $16,000 to place nationwide Sept. 4 but was seen by more than 1.4 million users.

Utah voters can expect to see more online political advertising from campaigns and other groups as we get closer to November. A report from February of this year suggests online advertising during this campaign season will top $1.3 billion.