Do you have a Trump coin? Heck, do you even know what I’m talking about?
You’re probably either deluged with ads for commemorative coins featuring Trump’s face—or you’ve never heard of this trend at all. The ads are all over conservative portions of the internet; the business appears perfectly suited to the filter-bubbles created by Facebook and Google’s advertising platforms.
The online stores hawking these coins—and gold-plated faux banknotes with Trump’s face—are presumably making a lot of money: at least 158 companies have spent at least $1.5 million dollars on ads on Facebook and tens of thousands on Google.
It’s not clear exactly what’s going on.
Some of the advertisers may have a straightforward goal: selling the coins for more than they cost wholesale, just as sellers in the early 2000s sold collections of “Bushisms” to liberals. Others may be political groups collecting names of Trump supporters.
Others may be taking advantage of the knotted web of our online data economy; the goal may be to use the coins as a loss-leader to find the contact information of elderly conservatives who respond to shady-seeming web advertisements—folks who might be easy prey for scams.
Over the course of the next few months, we’re going to start trying to understand what these strange—to me, at least—tchotchkes show about the intersection of online capitalism and the pervasive nature of America’s politics.
On Facebook, the ads are often targeted to older Americans, people older than ages 45 or 50. They’re also usually targeted to people whom Facebook has guessed, based on their “likes” and web-browsing activity, support Donald Trump, back the Republican party, or are politically conservative.
Ads leading to Metals.com also targeted older conservatives for its Facebook ads. Metals.com is a precious metals retailer that Quartz investigated in November; it’s in legal hot water with several state securities regulators, including accusations of fraud in offering investment advice in connection with the coins it sells, which often bear markups over 100%.
It’s not clear how the ads on Google are targeted. Google discloses almost no information about who an advertiser chose to be shown the ads, neither in public disclosure portals nor to individual users.
The coins and bills aren’t meant to be spent or to increase in value; they’re just marketed as collectibles for Trump supporters. They’re often marketed as free—plus $10 shipping and handling. Some of the stores that market them also sell more traditional political memorabilia like hats, flags and stickers.
Several of the ads claim that the products are made in the USA, but identical-seeming products are available (often for under a dollar) on Wish from apparently China-based sellers.
Do you know what’s going on with these Trump coins? Let us know.