What do Facebook Ads tell us about Parties’ UK General Election Strategy?

Who Targets Me
Aug 15, 2019 · 5 min read

As the spectre of a UK General Election looms in the Autumn, some British political parties have been ramping up their Facebook ad campaigns.

The Conservatives, in particular, have invested heavily in the past month, outspending their nearest opponent nearly 3:1.

Between July 13th and August 11th, they spent £80,424, while the Labour Party spent £30,348. During the same period, the Brexit Party spent a little under £9,708 and the Liberal Democrats spent just £4,813.

The Conservatives’ Approach: Data Collection + Attack Ads

The Tories far ran far more ads than the other parties, pushing out batches of hundreds of new ads every few days. These featured slight variations in everything from copy, calls to action, images, colours and targeting, yet all share similar goals.

Since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, the party has been running ads asking people to take surveys, as part of a nationwide data-gathering exercise.

Each survey asks users to submit their name, email and postcode and give permission to a broad privacy policy.

This is part of an effort to create a database of voters, some of whom will be persuadable and live in marginal, target seats, who they will advertise to during any forthcoming election campaign, most likely with tailored messaging based on the data the voter provided.

In the last few days the Conservatives have also rolled out ads that show an image implying politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon are ‘cherry-picking’ remain votes while ignoring the wishes of leave voters.

To date, the Conservative Party’s Facebook ads have reached an audience that is 69% male and mostly older, with 60% of their audience over the age of 45.

It’s important to note that the audience isn’t necessarily being specifically targeted. Who sees a Facebook ad is in part determined by the ad delivery mechanism on the platform, which searches for users most likely to respond to specific advertisers and ads. The fact that Tory ads reach older voters might be reflective of the appeal of the party as Facebook’s advertising display algorithm determines it, rather than the party’s choice (though the two things seem well-aligned).

Labour: Low Spend and Unclear Strategy

In contrast to the Conservative ads, the Labour Party’s reached a younger (though still majority male) audience, with 50% of ads shown to voters under 45.

The party’s campaign is also notably less disciplined. For example, in the week Boris Johnson was elected Prime Minister, Labour ran two ads promoting a rally for a general election and numerous other ads promoting a second referendum on a final Brexit Deal.

The Labour party have also run their own attack ads, stating that ‘you can’t trust Boris Johnson’ and that he ‘won’t look out for you, only himself and his super-rich friends’.

In the past week however, Labour has started to talk about its preparations for an election, with ads stating that the vote ‘could come at any time’ and they are ‘ready’ for it.

Liberal Democrats: Female Focused and Anti-Brexit

The Liberal Democrats stand out amongst the main parties for reaching an audience that is majority female (61%) and older (57% were over 45, which is perhaps reflective of Facebook’s user base).

They’ve run relatively few ads, but the majority have focused on the party’s position of trying to stop Brexit.

The Brexit Party: Older Reach, Traditional Ads

The Brexit Party reach the oldest audience (64% over the age of 45). Their majority of their messages are appearing in the newsfeeds of men (64% of all ads)

Their campaign is centred around the candidates they’ve announced for a forthcoming General Election, with each one promoting a localised message including the candidate’s name and picture, constituency and the percentage of people who voted to leave the EU in that area.

With candidates announcing they are ‘standing’ in each constituency, their ads are the most explicit about the expectation of, and preparation for, a General Election this autumn.

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