The survey website Facebook users were targeted with in a nationwide data-gathering excercise.

Conservatives’ Boris ads primarily targeting men over 45

Over 1000 Facebook ads have been launched by the Conservative Party — the majority targeting men over 45 — as part of a nationwide data-gathering exercise that was launched in the week since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister.

Conservatives have spent over £23k in the past week promoting ads to users, with the majority prompting them to fill out a survey to tell the party their top political priorities and give their address and contact details, as well as permission to an extensive privacy policy.

The Conservative ads link to the survey with various images and videos of Boris Johnson and the repeated text stating “I am going to deliver Brexit by October 31st…These are my priorities, tell me yours”.

What the Survey Says

Despite the focus on Brexit in his ads, aside from a short comment, voters are not given room to respond to Boris’s Brexit plan but rather asked to select from a short list of domestic issues such as the NHS, crime, the economy, schools and education, welfare, taxation with ‘brexit’ amongst those options.

They are then asked who they voted for in the last elections and who they plan to vote for in the next election.

Such data gathering is becoming increasingly commonplace in modern politics as highly personalised targeted advertising, made possible by social media platforms and the free flow of personal information, allows parties to gather wide scale data on potential voters.

By identifying the key issues in local areas (hence the request for users’ postcodes) they can tailor their message via social media, emails or canvassing/post to canvas voters based on their interests in the run up to an election. And by understanding the past voting behaviour and future intentions of voters they can identify where swing votes lie and which districts are the most crucial to their wider electoral strategy.

Who is being targeted?

Men over 45 were the most targeted demographic by age and gender in the first week after Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, receiving 45% of ads.

Overall men received the majority of conservative ads, accounting for 75% of the Conservative ad recipients, while the age demographic the most ads reached were people between 55–64 year olds (24%).

45–54 year olds received 22% of ads, 65+ received 17% and 18–24 year olds received 16%.

(It is important to note that these are ads reached by users not necessarily exactly as the targeting party intend as facebook’s algorithms share ads to users based on a bidding system and therefore it can depend on limits placed on age groups based on competition for their attention that day.)

Ads with four different types of messaging were trialed.

428 ads containing the below text and prompting them to fill out the voter survey were targeted with a variety of images and shared to an audience that was 70% male.

Nearly three quarters of the recipients over 45 (73%) while only 6% of recipients were 18–24 year olds.

Interestingly, the ads vary in colour and facial expression — some using the teal blue of the Brexit Party while others use the red of the Labour party. These slight design variations can be tested to see what gets the most clicks.

A younger demographic were targeted with ads with slightly varied text asking them to join the conservative party, with an audience that was 81% male and 27% between the ages of 18–24.

Five ads with the message that although Britain would leave on October 31st with ‘no ifs, no buts’ but that “whatever happens EU citizens here can be certain of their right to stay”, encouraging an audience that was 70% male and 58% in the 35–54 age group to join the Conservatives.

And finally, a video inviting viewers to “Watch Boris Johnson take apart Jeremy Corbyn for five solid minutes” was seen by an audience that was 36% 55–64 and 70% male.

Details in the Data

The ads encourage the user the to take a survey for their chance to tell the PM their priorities — users can answer the question “What’s the most important issue for you and your family right now?” and are also prompted to enter their postcode, name and email address.

Once users submit their initial answer and personal details they are invited to answer questions on their main voting priorities and previous and future voting intentions.

See the full survey here

The process also involves signing up to extensive privacy policy allowing the ‘wider Conservative party’ to collect data like political opinions, voting intentions, family connections and financial transaction data amongst others. It also requests permission to target users again in future with ads based on the information submitted.

While users may think they are simply being asked to give feedback to the Prime Minister, this type of information collection required in the process allows parties like the Conservatives to build up a powerful databases of potential voters, map their locations and gain the power to target them in future directly, tailoring their messaging to meet their concerns.

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