The 2024 US Presidential election will be significantly influenced by artificial intelligence. We are likely to see both legitimate and deliberately faked content plus manipulation on social networks, especially Facebook.
The candidate (and campaign) that understands how to use AI and understands the pitfalls of this technology is likely to have an edge, possibly a winning one.
I don’t comment on politics. Instead, I analyze U.S. Presidential election marketing strategy because it is a real-time marketing case study that consumes the media every four years.
The more I study presidential elections, the more I realize that the best marketer usually wins. In the technology fueled races of 2008 and 2016, the marketing edge went to Obama and Trump, who both won.
Obama in 2008: “Change”
From the beginning of his campaign in the 2008 cycle, Obama was about "change." His campaign focused on the buyer persona who wanted to move on from the ideas of George W. Bush. The word "change" was everywhere in his campaign, so much that the entire world knew what Obama stood for. In mid-2008, I asked a group of 300 people at a talk in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia what was the one word they think of when I say Barack Obama and all in the room said out loud "CHANGE".
Social media had emerged just prior to the 2008 cycle. The Obama team understood that what I call the new rules of marketing are essential for success. The other campaigns seemed to be fighting using the playbooks of past campaigns. John McCain was relying on what worked to elect George W. Bush. Obama realized that to become president, he had to deliver online information to people via social media as a primary tool, not an afterthought. Obama won partly because his campaign was better at marketing.
Trump in 2016: “MAGA”
In the 2016 election, Donald Trump understood the buyer persona he needed to reach better than the Clinton campaign. Trump created a strong, memorable message from the moment he announced his candidacy. “Make America Great Again” captured his promise to buyer personas. People all over the world knew the slogan. Quick question: What was Hillary Clinton’s message in 2016? Most people don’t remember “Stronger Together” and if they do, I’m not sure they think it’s powerful.
Clinton hired all the right people and crafted an enormous campaign marketing machine using traditional advertising, grassroots canvassing, and other traditional campaign strategies. Clinton was like a big company hiring a bunch of advertising agencies to run paid campaigns. Donald Trump focused instead on free real-time media, especially Twitter. At his mega-rallies all over the country, he would say something controversial, knowing the media would pick up the news in real time. I started writing about Trump's marketing strategies 18 months before the election and suggested that the media and pundits were wrong in not taking the Trump candidacy seriously. Trump's tweets and the video of the rallies were reported instantly by thousands of media outlets. These marketing strategies generated a reported $5 billion in free media for Trump, greatly contributing to his win.
Election 2024: Artificial Intelligence
The AI-fueled 2024 election season is already here and we’re going to see a lot more AI generated content between now and November 2024. Here are some things to look for in the coming months.
Micro targeting with AI. With each election cycle, the ability for candidates to target demographic groups gets narrower and narrower. While the 2004 campaign was interesting because candidate Howard Dean was the first to create blogs targeting each US state, by the 2020 cycle, there were thousands of micro segments that the campaigns targeted via social networks, especially Facebook.
In 2024, using AI advertising strategies and tools, campaigns are likely to be able to target individual voters with content that is created especially for them. The campaign that makes the best use of this AI ad-tech will have an edge.
AI generated political content. When Biden announced his reelection campaign a few months ago, the Republican National Committee released a video titled Beat Biden on YouTube. The RNC called it “An AI-generated look into the country's possible future if Joe Biden is re-elected in 2024.”
The video is 100 percent AI created. It features AI-created images appearing to show Biden and VP Harris celebrating a 2024 election win, followed by a series of imagined television news reports about international and domestic crises that the ad suggests would follow a Biden victory in 2024.
Beware of deepfakes. While the Beat Biden RNC video was tagged as AI created, we’re going to see a lot of fake videos, photographs, and audio generated in the coming months. It may not be from the campaigns directly. But fake content will come from the various supporters and hangers on. Agencies that represent PACs will churn out fake content. Foreign adversaries will also try to manipulate the election with fake content.
Social media amplification. I worry most about the amplification of fake content via social media including YouTube and Twitter, and especially Facebook. The sad truth is the Facebook Newsfeed rewards anger, conspiracy, and lies because that tends to get people to stay on the service longer. The Facebook AI algorithm leads tens of millions of its nearly three billion active global users into an abyss of misinformation, a quagmire of lies, and a quicksand of conspiracy theories.
As fake content is generated and amplified via the social networks, millions of voters may not know the truth about what they are seeing. This has real power to sway elections, especially if something dramatic but fake is released in the days or hours before the election on Tuesday, November 5, 2024.
The campaign that can quickly deal with deepfakes amplified by social media may have an edge in 2024. But I fear that many people will not seek out the truth.
Important note: This is a marketing blog, not a political blog. I am not commenting on any candidate’s views on the issues nor am I publicly supporting any candidate. I write about the US Presidential election because it is a massive marketing case study, not because I voice my support for any candidate over another.
For more of my posts about US Presidential election marketing going back five election cycles, go here.
AI Disclosure: I wrote every word of this post. The headline was adapted from a suggestion by ChatGPT-4 and the image is via DALL-E with the prompt “a republican logo elephant and a democratic logo donkey in a fight over artificial intelligence digital art”.