Aisle 518 Strategies

Aisle 518 logo

More than any other candidate, Bernie Sanders understood the power of digital to engage and empower a national movement. In the 2020 primary, the Aisle 518 Strategies team was embedded in the campaign from day one. That meant working out of the national campaign headquarters every day, managing staff, and being a part of the core leadership team with the candidate and five others.


When we launched Bernie’s 2020 campaign for president, we knew that the only way he would be able to compete financially in the race was from lots of people making small donations. By the time the campaign ended, we had raised more money than any other candidate in the primary and from significantly more individual donations than anyone else in the race — more than 10 million donations by Super Tuesday, a record for donations in presidential primary campaign history.

What these fundraising results show — and what Bernie’s campaign proved — is that when a candidate shows they are ready to fight for an agenda that works for everyone, working people will come together in large numbers to support the campaign. Our job was, in part, to channel that willingness to participate into financial support.

Campaign Toplines

  • $203,753,477 Raised for the campaign
  • 10,511,585 individual Donations
  • 2,000,000 grassroots donors
  • 98% Raised online

With a lower average donation of $19.38, the 2020 campaign was arguably more grassroots than the revolutionary 2016 campaign, which became known for its donation average of $27.

Campaign Launch

$6 million raised in first 24 hours of the campaign from more than 225,000 donors

Less than a week after launching, 1 million people signed up to say they were with Bernie


The email program primarily relied on two main pillars: focusing on the progressive agenda at the center of the campaign and communicating the power of small-dollar donations in helping to advance that agenda and making it possible for Bernie to effectively compete in the primary.

We designed and sent highly personalized emails that acknowledged the ways supporters had engaged with the campaign. During the campaign, Bernie talked a lot about building a movement, so we thought it was important to show his supporters how they were a part of that movement.

Many emails leveraged supporter data to help us tell a personal story connecting individual actions to their role in the broader movement.

  • Number of Donations
  • Total Given
  • Date of First Donation
  • Petition & Survey Responses
  • Volunteer Calls Made & Texts Sent
  • Events Hosted or Attended
  • Promotional Items Received
Check out some of our example emails.
Bernard Sanders

You deserve an explanation.

Bernie Sanders

I am asking you to add your name in support of my Medicare for All bill

Faiz Shakir,


Bernie Sanders

I trust you, Sabrina

Bernie Sanders

I am writing to ask if you can make another $15 contribution to our campaign today — especially today — to help us run the kind of campaign that will not only win this primary, but defeat Donald Trump. Link inside. - Bernie


Bernie Sanders

Green New Deal


Over the course of the campaign, we were the only ones in the Democratic primary to leverage mass text messaging to its fullest potential as a fundraising tool. We began building the mass text list early on so that by the time the primary was in full swing, we could reach hundreds of thousands of Bernie's supporters with a single click of a button.


Donations via SMS


Total Raised via SMS

Direct Response Ads

An effective direct response advertising operation is essential to build and maintain a strong small-donor fundraising program. Our team ran one of the largest online acquisition programs to grow Bernie's base of supporters online and re-engage existing supporters, which ultimately made it possible to set new fundraising records for a presidential primary. We also managed direct response ad creative in house.

  • In the primary campaign, our direct response ads brought in more than 1.93 million new names on a budget of $17.8 million, raising an immediate $20.9 million for an immediate positive ROI of 118%.
  • Over the course of the primary, ads generated 22.5% of total fundraising revenues and 61.5% of new names acquired converted to donors.
  • Over their lifetime on our email list, these names made over 1.27 million donations and generated an additional $23.4 million dollars, nearly 30% of the total funds raised via email.
  • Aisle 518 wrote and worked with the campaign to produce frequent videos of the candidate direct-to-camera which drove up both direct response program scale and ROI, particularly around end of quarter deadlines, and consistently brought in efficient new names on a variety of ad platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Reddit.
  • In addition to generating new names, our direct response program also helped maximize the potential of our email list by reactivating inactive 2016 donors and 2020 subscribers who had not yet donated. In fact, one third of all our new-to-list donors were re-subscribers, and those reactivated via donation ads showed a significantly higher average immediate donation (upon reactivation).

Digital Organizing

In addition to managing the online fundraising operation, we also supported the organizing work happening across the campaign. From turning people out to the largest rallies of the primary to recruiting volunteers to talk to voters and caucus-goers about why they support Bernie, the digital program helped provide a seamless connection between how supporters interacted with the campaign online and on the ground.

  • More Events

    Helped recruit nearly 4,000 hosts for the campaign's organizing kickoff April 2019

  • More People

    Turned people out to huge rallies over the course of the primary

  • More Efficiently

    Worked closely with state and national organizing staff connecting supporters to volunteer actions nationwide

Event Building

Our team recruited attendees for some of the largest events of the primary.


Brooklyn, NY


Chicago, IL


San Francisco, CA


Denver, CO


Brooklyn, NY


Minneapolis, MN


Tacoma, WA


Austin, TX


Chicago, IL


Los Angeles, CA

Persuasion &

Breaking Through in Early States and California

Building a robust persuasion and motivation program for voters in the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and California was our first assignment. Having won or been highly competitive in each during 2016, expectations were sky high this time around. If Bernie didn’t win or tie in 2020, we knew the rest of the primary could easily slip away before it started.

We needed to organize our existing supporters, find new supporters and turn out every single person possible to get there - and do it amidst a busy communications landscape.

Massive, Culturally Competent Latinx and Spanish-Language Outreach Programs

Bernie 2020 ran the largest Latino outreach campaign ever, including the largest Latino and Spanish language digital advertising programs in history.

According to CNN entrance and exit polls, Bernie Sanders achieved massive Latino community margins that propelled him to wins in the first three states and California.

Impact Measurement and Creative Testing

Aisle 518 Strategies uses several digital survey tools and solutions to deliver creative and impact measurement across varied media placements and tactics. For the Bernie 2020 campaign, we delivered real-time impact data via a custom YouTube Brand Lift dashboard. Brand Lift allowed the campaign to measure the in-market impact of its spots, messengers and messages to make sure we used the most impactful creative.

The campaign’s creative team produced a wide variety of impactful long form videos and shorter spots for deployment in each state. We conducted creative tests and ongoing impact measurements allowing us to optimize creative for audience impact and deliver strategic insights to the campaign.

Iowa’s Most Persuasive Ads

(General Market, English-Language)
Big Us
Belongs to Us

Iowa’s Most Persuasive Ads

(Younger Audiences, English-Language)
Transform This Country
AOC My Why Bernie

New Hampshire Most Persuasive Ad

AOC Our Aspiration

Nevada Most Persuasive Ad

Our Side

Nevada Most Persuasive Ad

Immigration Story

In late October 2019, the RCP polling average had Bernie in 4th place behind Buttigieg, Warren and Biden in Iowa. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) had recently endorsed Bernie.

In Aisle 518 Strategies’ testing of the AOC endorsement ad in Iowa, voters under the age of 50 had increased consideration of Bernie by 17 points and increased vote choice by 4 points. This was the most impressive movement we had seen in the campaign thus far from a single ad.

To capitalize on this moment and movement, we recommended an increased investment in Iowa digital toward reaching these audiences and an increase in creative rotation of the AOC creative. This was combined with a shift away from other creative that wasn’t performing as well.

Four weeks after the campaign implemented these recommendations, Bernie had gone from 4th place to 2nd behind only Buttigieg.

Audience Targeting

Our coalition for persuasion and motivation was composed primarily of younger voters under age 50, Latinx voters of all ages, progressives, non-college educated voters, independents and the Muslim community. In addition to reaching modeled 1:1 targeted persuasion and motivation universes, we took a layered approach to our ad targeting, using a mixture of language targeting, social interest, lookalike and affinity data, content and intent-based targeting, geographic behavior targeting, and demographic and indexed zip-code targeting to reach our audiences.

Reaching and Impacting Voters on All Screens

We ran aggressive cross-screen campaigns that invested heavily in Connected-TV (CTV), Over-the-Top (OTT), Full Episode Player (FEP), Programmatic and Social video placements. Media was planned to deliver an impactful weekly message frequency and to maximize viewability and reach in our targeted audiences.

Driving Digital-Only Impact

In Iowa, in fringe TV markets where there was no live TV, we ran higher reach and frequency campaigns to drive voter impact. In October 2019, after one month of advertising, voters in fringe media markets where we ran digital but not TV had moved +14 points versus an average of +4 points overall statewide.