BERNIE 2016: Scoring the Digital Strategies of the Presidential Hopefuls

6 min read

Bernie Sanders emerged from a seemingly Hillary-dominated Democratic nomination to become one of the most talked-about candidates in the run-up to next year’s election. He inspires many with his calls for new policies addressing wealth inequality, racial justice, and raising the minimum wage.

We care about that stuff, sure. But we’re here to talk marketing. How’s Bernie look out there in the social mediascape?


bernie2016The Bernie logo is quite different from many other candidates’ in that it steers away from the traditional blue and red of the American flag. He instead uses a more modern hue of blue and a lighter red.

According to Ali Elkin of Bloomberg, Bernie’s logo seems to be “literally building on Obama’s legacy… His typography is literally sitting on top of these stripes that recall the Obama stripes.”

Ben Ostrower, one of the logo’s designers, says the intention was to make the campaign “friendly, accessible, and unmistakably American. In short, the furthest thing from radical or unfamiliar.” Prior to this election, Bernie identified as an Independent. It seems his logo, and his alignment with the Democratic Party, are meant to assure voters that he is relatable and trustworthy.

Amy McAdams, our associate creative director, was willing to help me out here. Her take:

Those waves. It’s like “Rollin’ with Bernie.” And, for some reason it reminds me of a nursing home logo. But, I’m always a fan of playing the buddy card with putting the first name of the candidate up front. And, look at that: he’s using a star for the dot on the “i.” How very playful of Bernie!


Bernie made headlines for taking on the media’s coverage of the 2016 candidates by criticizing their prioritization of the candidates’ hairstyles over the important issues such as pay inequality.

He’s still a bit of a media darling, owing in part to the large turnout at several campaign stops—and in spite of his run-ins with Black Lives Matter protesters that came to a boil when Marissa Johnson and Mara Jacqueline Willaford, co-founders of the Seattle chapter of Black Lives Matter, interrupted Sanders’ speech in Seattle.

Sanders was then forced to address his apology—or, non-apology — to the protestors after a staffer for the Sanders campaign sent an email to the Black Lives Matter organization saying, in part, that the Sanders campaign was sorry for not reaching out to them sooner. Days later, Sanders stated that he never authorized that apology, nor does he feel an apology to the Black Lives Matter supporters is necessary. Looks a little bit like the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, Bernie.


The best part of Bernie’s email marketing is the fundraising strategy. In asking you to give, he cites a Black Lives Matter activist, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, and an individual who was inspired to give after attending a rally. Bernie isn’t just asking you for your money. He’s providing you with social proof to justify that you SHOULD give because these fine people all found it reasonable to do so. These trust indicators are intended to help assure your that Bernie’s campaign is worthy of your donation.

Each of his emails includes a clear call-to-action button. This coral-colored button works perfectly against the white background. He could improve his donation rate with stronger copy like “Make my contribution.” According to landing page optimization expert Oli Gardner, actionable copy within the call to action correlates with higher conversion rates, ergo more checks in the Bank of Bernie.

notbillionairesI love the way Bernie’s brand is sewn into his email templates. Each email has a footer containing the standard “Paid for by Bernie 2016,” tagged with “(not the billionaires).” He also regularly invites subscribers to join his “SuperPack” – an obvious dig at the super PACs that control much of what we see promoted in US elections. Bernie has established himself as the person who won’t be bought and he is asking you, the subscriber, to join him in standing up to the fatcats. It’s a real-life story of David vs. Goliath and he’s painting it beautifully.

I do have to deduct points for the fact that Bernie’s team is not utilizing first and last names within email salutations. My name is Megan. I do not want to be addressed as “Friend” by anyone. Ever.


After Bernie’s two encounters with protestors from the Black Lives Matter movement, he responded via Twitter, asking Deray Mckesson, a prominent civil rights activist and member of We The Protestors, to discuss his racial justice platform. Not only is this connecting at a whole new level, it represents Bernie’s interest in actually listening— and adjusting —based on the needs of voters.

He would benefit from strategic incorporation of hashtags. He rarely uses them and when he does, he opts for #Bernie2016. According to Keyhole, the #Bernie2016 hashtag racked up just three million impressions over the past week. Compare that to the #FeelTheBern hashtag (the one used by Bernie’s supporters), which has racked up nearly seven million impressions over the same time period. It might be time to switch it up, Bernie!

Bernie’s Facebook account uses a consistent theme for posting pictures with accompanying copy that highlights Bernie’s stance on important issues including racial justice, environmental protection, and workers’ rights. He also does a great job of weaving in videos from the campaign trail and using the Facebook Events platform to announce campaign stops and invite people to RSVP.

Meanwhile, his Instagram photos lack a consistent theme and don’t form a cohesive picture of who he is and what he hopes to inspire in people. He does, however, weave in aspects of his campaign such as universal healthcare and education, and dabbles in the occasional #ThrowbackThursday post.

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The Verdict


That backchannel email gaf aside, Bernie’s email strategy is the best I’ve seen yet. He’s doing a great job of incorporating his view on the issues and encouraging subscribers to donate to his campaign. But there is more he could do. To improve, Bernie should establish a stronger call to action and work through database maintenance to properly address those he’s reaching out to.

If Bernie really wants to compete on Instagram, he should take a note from Hillary. She currently has 230k followers to his 101k. And while it may seem silly to compare Instagram following to voter turnout, it’s important to note that Instagram’s most active users are ages 18-29, female, African-Americans and Hispanics, and live in urban or suburban environments. According to the US Census, only 45% of voters within the ages of 18-24 showed up to vote for the 2012 presidential election. Where better to rally them than through the social media platforms they engage with already?