Dean Phillips for Congress

Beating Election Expectations Without Spending a Dime on TV

Up for reelection in a suburban swing district, first-time congressman Dean Phillips teamed up with Trilogy to run a digital-first campaign that propelled him to victory, despite being massively outspent on TV.

  • Raised approximately $700,000 from grassroots donors in 2020
  • Garnered 17.7 million impressions and 6 million completed video ad views
  • Drove Phillips to an 11-point victory, outperforming Democrats in similar districts

We were outspent on TV $813,000 to $0 and still won by 11 points. That’s not a typo — it’s a strategy.

Jake Levy-Pollans VP, Strategic Services, Trilogy Interactive

Minnesota’s 3rd Goes Blue

Dean Phillips faced big challenges in his bid to flip Minnesota's 3rd congressional district in 2018. He was taking on a popular five-term incumbent with millions in the bank, while refusing to take a penny from lobbyists and PACs. But with Trilogy by his side, he built a digital fundraising powerhouse and a compelling online brand that led him to a win on Election Day in the historic 2018 midterms. 

As tough as that first race was, his first reelection would prove to be even tougher. Now an incumbent, Phillips faced a challenger with a compelling life story, plenty of funding, and establishment support. The ongoing pandemic meant his grassroots campaign strategy needed to be reinvented, as it could no longer rely on a strong ground game. And he was running in a suburban district where traditional broadcast TV advertising was cost-inefficient and left cord-cutting constituents out of the fold.

So Trilogy got to work on a groundbreaking digital-first strategy. 

A Winning Digital-First Strategy for Reelection

With Trilogy, Rep. Phillips eschewed the traditional TV-first advertising strategy of Democratic House races. Instead, he invested more than $400,000 in digital persuasion ads, reaching targeted voters where they were with tested, on-brand messages.

Trilogy developed a diverse series of ads focused on Phillips’ record of bipartisan accomplishments that broke through in the dire political climate of 2020. We used Swayable, the gold standard for creative pre-testing online, to run digital panel tests to hone ad messages and targets.

The results guided our spending on more than a dozen digital ad platforms to reach voters wherever they were. Rather than relying on a single targeting method, like voter file targeting, we invested in a wide range of methodologies, including advanced behavioral and contextual targeting. All told, we delivered over 17 million impressions to persuadable and turnout targets in Minnesota’s 3rd district. Check out a few of our ads here.

Trilogy laid the foundation for this bold, digital-first advertising strategy with a strong grassroots email fundraising program. We melded Dean’s message of optimism and hope, his strong stance on the influence of dark money in politics, and his proud record of bipartisanship to create compelling asks, raising $700,000 from 11,000 donations over the course of 2020.

Shattering Expectations

Rep. Phillips’ Republican opponent outspent him on TV, $813,603 to $0. But on Election Day, thanks to his innovative digital-first strategy, Phillips beat his own campaign polling expectations and outperformed other Democrats in similar suburban swing districts.1

  • In PA-07 (D+1), Democrat Susan Wild won by 3 points
  • In WA-08 (even PVI), Democrat Kim Schrier also won by about 3 points
  • In IA-03 (R+1), Democrat Cindy Axne won by 2 points
  • In PA-01 (R+1), Democrat Christina Finello lost by 13 points

In MN-03 (D+1), Dean earned the support of over 40,000 more voters than he did in 2018, winning by 11 points.

1Based on CityLab’s congressional district density index (“Sparse Suburban”) and Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) scores between R+1 and D+1.

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