Creative Agency of the Year: The Lincoln Project

At a time when advertising’s effectiveness is called into question by both industry insiders and those watching from the sidelines, the Lincoln Project (LP) serves as a perfect case study attesting to not only the essential need for creative messaging but how a group of talented individuals under one mission can join forces to change the world (or convince voters not to “buy” a candidate).

The Lincoln Project may be best described as an ad agency disguised as a PAC (Political Action Committee). Founded in late 2019 by a number of high-profile political operatives, including Rick Wilson, Reed Galen, John Weaver and Steve Schmidt, the shop called itself the most effective movement to reach and persuade Republicans to vote against President Trump. 

With its stated mission to “defeat Trumpism,” LP morphed into a full-service agency, relying on creativity and media strategy — as well as donor support — to spread its message. This creative, according to founder George Conway, is designed to take advantage of Trump’s narcissistic qualities as well as his inability to take or hear criticism. As one LP tweet sums up, “The only loser is you, Donald.”

Under its barrage of nonstop creative spots, Trump was continually positioned in a negative light. More than 1.7 million viewers on YouTube watched his ego get trampled with the #TrumpIsNotWell spot that showed him walking haltingly down a ramp, all emphasized with narration “suggesting” Trump was physically unfit. 

Pop culture was also utilized to gain eyeballs. The group’s ads cannily used comedy, including a popular riff on “Seinfeld,” to entertain and inform. The Seinfeld-inspired spot, titled “Trumpfeld,” incorporated canned laugh tracks as Trump spouted untrue statements, such as how his losing “was not going to happen.” He also had polls showing him winning in “every swing state.” (Added points to the spoof is the fact that Trumpworld fixture Steve Bannon earns royalties off the iconic series thanks to his advantageous financial investments.)

This creativity was then aided by savvy media investment. With almost $78 million in funding (notably, 39% came from small donors, $200 or less), LP maximized its ad budget by leveraging free media. Trump naturally was always able to obtain massive press coverage, but LP similarly achieved viral success as well. In addition to its massive social media footprint, accrued through years of networking and relationships, the vast majority of ads soared in views as people passed them along and they endlessly replayed for free on major networks. 

LP also wisely analyzed data to maximize its allocation to spend only where necessary. In addition to targeting the Washington media market and thus Trump himself, media was spent in key swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Their data recognized they were most likely to influence college-educated suburban women and older men. 

This isn’t to say everything LP does turns into gold. There have been some controversies and blowback. Several Republicans attacked the group for pushing conservatives to embrace the “socialist, anarchist agenda of the radical left.” The FEC report also disclosed many sub-vendor companies receiving money from the group were affiliated with top LP leaders. 

LP is not done yet. Trump’s inability to concede has them rethinking their playbook and gearing up for another battle. This month, LP sent an email to supporters pledging “We will do everything in our power to ensure he never steps foot in the White House again.” It adds, “We guarantee that if Trump decides to run again and continue to pollute our politics, upend our norms, and tarnish our democracy, he will have to go through us.”

8 comments about "Creative Agency of the Year: The Lincoln Project".
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  1. Steven Graff from Independent Knowledge, January 21, 2021 at 5:43 p.m.

    Creative Agency of the Year, based on this campaign? The campaign failed to attain its primary objective of getting Republicans to vote Joe Biden at an embarrassing level. If the agency were not its own client it would have been fired.

    "Result: President Trump received more votes than any Republican in history, amassing more than 73 million votes and breaking the previous GOP record he set in 2016. As far as biting into Trump's base, which apparently was the “Republican” group's core mission, the president received support from 91 percent of Republicans, according to a Fox News voter analysis, up from four years ago. " Source: The Hill 11/15/2020

  2. Dan Ciccone from STACKED Entertainment, January 22, 2021 at 3:22 a.m.

    In an unprecedented year of a pandemic, with almost every industry turned upside down and every brand agency and brand marketer needing to turn their advertising efforts inside out to reimagine marketing, it's pretty sad that you chose a PAC over all the amazing work that has been presented over the past 10 months.

    I truly hope that MediaPost can get past all of the political reporting and commentary and stop this incessant need to inject some kind of political slant or tone into so much editorial.

    Very much a slap in the face to all of the great work that has been accomplished in a year when people were told to work from home, adapt to totally different interactive norms with colleagues, and have to guess from day-to-day not only how to craft and deliver a message, but whether or not it will be relavant by the time it actually hits the consumer.

  3. George Parker from Parker Consultants, January 22, 2021 at 9:06 a.m.

    Steven Graff... "Result: President Trump received more votes than any Republican in history, amassing more than 73 million votes and breaking the previous GOP record he set in 2016." You conveniently forgot to mention that Biden got 8 million more votes. That's all that counts. You can run a personal best at the Olympics but still finish last.

  4. Larissa Faw from Mediapost replied, January 22, 2021 at 9:20 a.m.

    Dan, I get what you are saying and it was a big question for us during the decision process but part of our reasoning for recognizing LP was reviewing what creative sparked attention and really got people talking in 2020. Many agencies did develop incredible work that fit this guideline, but looking at the entire year, LP consistently released creative that got noticed regardless of content. Democrat or Republican, many were clever. And these are former ad vets using their skills effectively, You make valid points, but utlimately LP deserves to be honored for its unique accomplishments. 

  5. Dan Ciccone from STACKED Entertainment, January 22, 2021 at 12:01 p.m.

    Larissa - I disagree. Did it get people talking or was it just covered extensively by the media because the PAC is run by a bunch of conservatives?  The stories and conversations had more to do with who was running the PAC vs. the conversations the creative started.  The creative by and large follows the exact format that has been used in political ads for the past 40 years.

    Lincoln Project got the attention it did because of who was putting out the message - not the message or the creative itself.  The tone and approach is not unique vs. previous elections. 

    This was a wasted opportunity to really shine a light on agencies and brands that are doing amazing work vs. highlighting a PAC that took a tired creative approach that has existed for decades.

  6. Torry Clark from TLC Photography, January 23, 2021 at 9:42 a.m.

    Biden received 81 million. So there's that small fact to prove their effectiveness 

  7. Susan Pavis from None, January 23, 2021 at 11:41 a.m.

    Criticize if you like, but Trump did lose. Mission accomplished. 

  8. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 25, 2021 at 8:40 a.m.

    I'd bet that a fair number of Republicans who couldn't bear to vote for a Democrat simply didn't vote at all---in part, due to the activities of the Lincoln Project. Aslo, how many true "indepoendents" were swayed by their ads?

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