In digital campaign ads, Murphy talks Trump, Ciattarelli cites crime

By: - August 12, 2021 7:01 am

Republican Jack Ciattarelli, left, and Gov. Phil Murphy sparred Tuesday night about the state’s response to Hurricane Ida, COVID-19, and Ciattarelli’s appearance at a pro-Trump rally. (Amanda Brown and Danielle Richards for the New Jersey Monitor)

New Jersey’s gubernatorial candidates have embraced divergent digital advertising strategies in the aftermath of June’s primary, with challenger Jack Ciattarelli aiming to boost his name recognition while dinging Gov. Phil Murphy, who has kept his own online spots geared to message testing almost exclusively.

The Republican challenger has focused much of his messaging on crime, masking, and the incumbent’s treatment of women during his 2017 campaign. Murphy’s campaign is tying the former assemblyman to Donald Trump and highlighting his opponent’s stance on vaccines.

Ciattarelli has adopted larger buys with greater reach in a bid to introduce himself to the broader pool of general election voters and drive up Murphy’s negatives.

The Republican has made eight separate purchases on Facebook-owned platforms worth between $8,600 and $10,392 since the June 8 primary, according to a New Jersey Monitor analysis of Facebook Ad Library data.

Most of those purchases are relatively costly, running between $400 and $2,000, and often draw hundreds of thousands of impressions. Facebook’s Ad Library presents spending and impressions figures in ranges.

Few of the challenger’s purchases went toward boosting produced ads, though he made two buys for four spots attacking Murphy on crime and taxes in early July and another crime spot on Monday.

Four of his purchases boosted “Jack Chats” on unemployment, LGBT curricula required under a recent state law, masks, and the incumbent’s record on women.

The latter highlighted issues of harassment and an allegation of sexual assault during the governor’s 2017 campaign and was the Ciattarelli campaign’s only digital buy to target women. Nearly 100% of individuals shown that ad were women.

Men accounted for a majority of viewers for the Republican’s other spots, though they never accounted for more than 63% of the audience for a given post.

Ciattarelli came into the race with low name recognition. A Rutgers/Eagleton poll released in early June found just 23% of registered voters had an opinion of the challenger. A Farleigh Dickinson University poll released later that month found 70% registered voters didn’t know enough about the Somerset County Republican to form an opinion.

Murphy’s campaign has made a far larger amount of purchases, though the overwhelming bulk cost less than $100 and had far less reach than ads run by the Republican.

The lone exception was a series of three purchases made on June 21 collectively worth as much as $2,098. Those buys boosted a produced ad that sought to tie Ciattarelli to Trump and served as the campaign’s opening message for the general election. The governor kept to that tack in July, when his campaign launched 34 ads across eight buys hitting the Republican for his appearance at a “Stop the Steal” rally in December.

Murphy’s strategy changed in August, when the campaign turned its targeting toward New Jersey’s women.

The Democrat is seeking a second term in November.

Murphy has, so far, made only four digital buys this month. Those span six individual ads — four attacking Ciattarelli over his support for broadening a religious vaccination exemption and two highlighting a Bloomberg op-ed on New Jersey’s glowing position in the bond market and the state’s recent $5.8 billion pension payment.

The August ads overwhelmingly target women. They accounted for the lion’s share of the viewers on the two Bloomberg spots and two of the posts attacking Ciattarelli’s stance on vaccines.

Ciattarelli takes the edge in recent spending, having put $1,832 behind digital spots between Aug. 2 and Aug. 8. Murphy spent just $177 during the same period.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.

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