• 08.24.16

Why Agency SS+K Made “BFF Trump,” A Facebook Messenger Chatbot With Some Real Bite

For “the most important election ever,” they wanted people to get to interact with the things the GOP nominee had to say in his own words.

Why Agency SS+K Made “BFF Trump,” A Facebook Messenger Chatbot With Some Real Bite
[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]

Ad agencies tend to err on the side of the politically neutral. They might push a campaign that has a social conscience, but when it comes to taking a side in partisan, electoral politics, taking a hard line tends to be taboo. They might do work for a political campaign, but putting agency energy into a pro-bono effort to sway an election is rare. And it makes sense as to why: Clients can come from all political persuasions, and so can the people the campaigns are trying to reach. But when faced with an election that could make Donald Trump the President of the United States, SS+K (who were the youth agency for Obama 2008 and 2012) put some creative capital into reminding people exactly who Trump is. Hence “BFF Trump,” a Facebook chatbot that’s intended to engage millennials who know who Trump is–but may not know all of the things that he’s actually saying. And what better way to convey that than through Facebook Messenger?


“Every election is billed as ‘the most important election ever,’ but this year we’re seeing a real line in the sand around everything from a woman’s right to choose, who we marry, and ultimately how this country wants to be seen in the world,” SS+K Creative and Senior Strategist Claudia Cukrov says of the decision to create an anti-Trump campaign. “This is not an election to sit on the sidelines.”

Cukrov says that SS+K’s staff has “a wide range of political values,” which may explain why the campaign focuses just on Trump’s own words, which don’t tend to need much editorializing. To get those words, the agency tapped an intern with SS+K Labs, who pulled together early soundbites, and spent hours running through Trump’s tweets, YouTube videos, Howard Stern segments, old interviews, and more. That was important, though, in order to make sure people who used the app got “Trump, the real Trump,” which the agency says “was missing from the newsfeeds of the politically disengaged.”

Users who try out BFF Trump get greeted with a message fro the character, who asks them a question–say, “Have you heard about ‘The Mexicans’?”–with a prompt to learn more. From there, you can get more quotes on that topic, ask “What else you got?” or ask “Really?” and get taken directly to the source of the Trump quote in question.

The app was built by SS+K in partnership with Betaworks startup Dexter, which focuses on building bots for brands, services, and institutions. And while Cukrov says that the project was useful as a “test-and-learn” for the agency–“BFF Trump was created to give us an opportunity to push our thinking, knowledge, and expertise forward,” she says–it’s also very explicitly about shaping the election. “BFF Trump is designed to provoke people into action,” the agency’s press release declared, and Cukrov has plans to continue engaging people with it through the next two and a half months. “The earned media garnered has built an audience of around 2,000 bot users to date,” she says, “Which we have the option of re-messaging leading up to the election to drive users to vote.”

About the author

Dan Solomon lives in Austin with his wife and his dog. He's written about music for MTV and Spin, sports for Sports Illustrated, and pop culture for Vulture and the AV Club.