Yesterday a controversial tweet made by President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign manager had the Twittersphere buzzing. Today the center right-leaning Hispanic Leadership Network has seized on “chimichanga–gate,” and is testing a new form of Facebook targeting to get its message out to Hispanics.
“Stop the Insults!” declares an ad running in English and Spanish on Facebook. Along with similar display ads running in Google’s network, the ads are targeted to independent and conservative Hispanic voters in states with large Hispanic populations – Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and New Mexico. The ad continues, “Demand Obama apologize for his Campaign Manager’s insulting and condescending remarks about Hispanics. Sign Today.”
It’s no coincidence that these four states are key battlegrounds for the increasingly important Hispanic vote in 2012. HLN, which was on the national stage as co-host of a Republican presidential debate in Florida in January, has held events in the four states.
Obama for America campaign manager Jim Messina yesterday tweeted a quote from a Washington Post opinion piece that some believed was derogatory toward Hispanics. HLN leapt at the opportunity to spotlight what it perceived as an insult to Hispanic voters.
“Line of the day from WAPO’s Dana Milbank: ‘The chimichanga? It may be the only thing Republicans have left to offer Latinos,’ ” said Messina on his Messina2012 account. HLN soon criticized the post in a press release and on Twitter: “How insulting and condescending, @Messina2012 must apologize immediately and Obama must disavow.”
Once the group realized the chimichanga post was becoming a trending social media topic with potential repercussions in the presidential race, the group decided to back up its media outreach with a digital petition and ad campaign to promote it. As it turned out, said Jennifer Korn, executive director of HLN, the press release was the first many members had heard of Messina’s tweet, and they wanted to do something about it.
Hence, the Facebook and Google network ads promoting the petition. In addition to helping raise awareness among Hispanics in important swing states, HLN is using the ads to test a new form of targeting on Facebook that allows the group to reach U.S. Hispanics more directly, rather than having to use interest-based proxies to target them. The organization is spending “in the low thousands” of dollars on the effort, said Christopher Georgia, digital director of affiliated conservative groups American Action Network and American Action Forum, of which HLN is a part.
In November, the Forum spent around 25 percent of its $100,000 ad budget on pre-roll video ads, search ads, and display ads across the web including on Facebook to drive supporters to contact key representatives in Iowa and North Carolina, both swing states.
HLN has dedicated specific Facebook pages to English and Spanish versions of its petition. “Tell President Obama to focus on fighting for the issues of importance to Hispanics, not perpetuating insults,” states the petition.
In the past, Facebook has not enabled a direct means of targeting ethnic groups such as Hispanics, according to Georgia. For example, in the hopes of getting its ads in front of right-leaning Hispanics, the organization had to target people who like groups such as local Hispanic Chambers of Commerce or Hispanic groups associated with political candidates such as “Hispanics for Mitt Romney.”
Now HLN can “with one stroke hit the exact market,” said Georgia. “We want to galvanize support around this issue and build our user base.”
It is unclear how the Hispanic targeting works, and Facebook would not share details about the feature. However, the company may be targeting based on common Hispanic surnames. Facebook categorizes the Hispanic targeting feature as “ethnic” targeting, and currently does not appear to be offering the abilty to directly target any other ethnic groups.
HLN has a small Facebook base of just around 885 “likes,” but the group actively promotes its Facebook page at in-person events. “We’re really trying to increase the engagement of that community,” said Georgia.