Our Campaign Caused Donald Trump to Ask for a Court Martial. Here’s What We Did.
A smart and creative political influencer campaign can punch way, way above its weight.
THE BACKGROUND: During the 2020 presidential campaign, People First supported a campaign called Defeat Disinfo, designed to hit Donald Trump for his failure to protect millions of Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. To do it, we launched a peer-to-peer campaign based where Trump was campaigning. We had two goals: to counter Trump’s message from the bottom up — and, if we’re honest, to get under his skin.
By Election Day we knew we’d accomplished our goal: The content Defeat Disinfo sourced, hitting Trump for his COVID lies, had an average engagement rate of 6.86%, 8.5 times the industry average.
But last week we found out we’d discovered our second goal, too — more than we ever could have imagined.
WHAT HAPPENED: Last week, The Hill reported a shocking anecdote from former Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s new memoir: Trump wanted to reactivate former Army General Stanley McChrystal, solely to court-martial him, because of his criticism of the Trump administration.
According to The Hill, right-wing news outlets had been reporting McChrystal was advising the Democratic Party to fight Trump’s reelection using artificial intelligence which “spun up the president.” Esper went to great lengths to spin him back down.
The campaign that had ruined Trump’s day? Defeat Disinfo.
THE BIG TAKEAWAY: It took just a few pieces of microinfluencer content and a scrappy digital marketing strategy to induce a full-blown Trump hissy fit. Here’s how we pulled it off.
LOOKING CLOSER: Defeat Disinfo was designed to make Trump’s COVID failures unavoidable. To do it, we targeted three audiences – progressive Democrats, moderate Republicans, and Independents — with anti-Trump COVID content. Then we used paid digital ads to amplify those messages in every city Trump’s campaign touched down.
From Latrobe, Pennsylvania, to Bemidji, Minnesota, to Mosinee, Wisconsin, to Fayetteville, North Carolina and Miami, Florida, these targeted, grassroots-sourced, organic-feeling messages reached 950,000 voters — and maybe Trump and his staffers’ phones too.
In Florida, we ran ads in Spanish.
We used Tucker Carlson against Trump to Conservative audiences.
And we hit the pressure-points of the 2020 election, amplifying the stories of white women and medical professionals, like “nurse mom” Jenny Pivonka. She describes her life working in healthcare during the pandemic as she raises three children.
At the end of the day, we had a sky-high engagement rate of 17% of our target audience — and an engagement rate of 100% of pissed-off presidents.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Defeat Disinfo wasn’t a big campaign: Our work supporting the current administration, for which we won a Reed Award last week, is much larger in scope. But heading into the midterm and beyond, Esper’s latest revelation is a timely reminder: An authentic, grassroots-driven, story-centered peer-to-peer campaign, amplified at the right moment, can put even the President of the United States on the back foot.