Who do political parties target online and why?

  • By ITV News Trainee Fred Dimbleby

Do you follow Owen Jones on Facebook? Do you speak English? Are you a fan of BBC News?

Well, if the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you may be a target for political ads online.

In fact, these are reasons Facebook gives its users for showing them political adverts during this election campaign.

Remain group Best for Britain target students with their ads. Credit: Facebook

Look at this ad above from the pro-remain group Best for Britain.

From the limited information that the Facebook ad library shows us, we can see that it was targeted at students who are 18-25 and who live near London.

This is the ad that showed up on Facebook:

Their ads mostly encourage young people to register to vote Credit: Facebook

As a remain group, Best for Britain is trying to get as many Remainers voting as possible. They use Facebook’s data to find these people and fill their feeds with ads.

All political groups are using these tools to target voters, so who are they trying to reach?

  • It’s all about the issues for Labour

Labour change their ads on an issue-by-issue basis. Credit: Facebook

The Labour Party’s strategy is to change their demographic targeting on an issue by issue basis.

Unlike the Brexit Party, who as we will see has a relatively united voter group, Labour has significant numbers of voters from different demographic groups so have to balance their targeting by what they believe those groups care about.

This ad above about sure start, for example, is predominantly targeted at women in the 18-24 age range and then is equally focused on men and women in the older ranges.

If you are over 55, it is very unlikely that you would see this ad because Labour do not think it is an issue that you care enough about to decide your vote.

Ads about prescriptions are focused on older voting groups. Credit: Facebook

Take this ad about prescriptions, however, and you can see the disparity.

While versions of this advert are shown to younger groups, it is very unlikely that, as a young voter, it will show up on your feed.

It’s a similar story in Scotland - an ad about ex-miners is targeted at older voting groups, while one boasting about a ‘transformative Labour government’ is focused on 18-24-year-olds.

Labour also use Snapchat ads to reach out to the youngest voting group.

  • Ads like these from Labour have been shown to millions of young people on the app

  • Target-free Tories

This ad showing men in various states of adoration for Boris Johnson is targeted at men. Credit: Facebook

Unlike the other parties, it is hard to discern a pattern in some of the Tory Party’stargeting.

This ad, showing men in various states of adoration for Boris Johnson, is unsurprisingly targeted at male groups.

But then there’s this advert:

Surprisingly, emoji-filled ads are targeted at older demographics. Credit: Facebook

As an emoji-filled and policy light ad, we may expect it to be targeted at a younger generation.

But, the Tories predominantly show it to older groups.

Most of their targeting, however, shows that the Tory campaign is confident about its traditional voters and is reaching out to expand among different demographic groups.

Take this ad for example:

The Tories are reaching out to new voter groups with their ads. Credit: Facebook

The format of these ads is similar to those produced by the Brexit Party – a generic picture made specific by changing the constituency name.

Interestingly, however, these adverts are targeted mostly at 35-44-year-olds. In 2017, most people under the age of 50 voted Labour so these ads are not meant to shore up the Tory vote but expand it.

The only place where this is not the case is in Scotland. Tory ads there exclusively target older voter groups – a sign of the different campaign strategies around the country.

  • Lost in the world of Lib Dem ads

As this video shows, the Lib Dems have thousands of ads on Facebook, making it difficult to work out exactly who they are targeting and why.

Each ad is slightly different. Take the two demographic breakdowns below.

The Lib Dems produce thousands of ads, slightly changing their targeting in each one Credit: Facebook

These come from identical anti-Scottish independence ads, but they are all targeted at different voter groups.

The Lib Dems targeting campaign is the most specific of all the parties producing thousands of ads, each shown to handfuls of people.

  • It’s raining men in the Brexit Party campaign

The Brexit Party's ads are mostly focussed on men in the younger demographics Credit: Facebook

The Brexit Party focus their ads mostly at men and do not target the youngest voters in this election.

They know that the 18-25-year-old group is decidedly remain, so try to avoid them in their ads.

The gender split is more complicated.

Look at the image above and you can see that they target men and women in relatively equal numbers among older voters.

But there is a large disparity between genders in the 25-44-year-old range.

The Brexit Party splashed £97,723 of their cash on Facebook ads from 17-23 November Credit: PA

Ipsos Mori’s data about the demographic breakdown of the Brexit vote shows 11% more men, aged 35 to 55, voted leave than women in that same group.

So, the Brexit Party strategy attempts to seek these voters out and ensure they vote the same way again in 2019.

  • Parallels in Northern Ireland

This DUP ad is one of the only where women make up most of the audience Credit: Facebook

The DUP focus most of their ads on men - their only ad so far in this campaign, which is predominantly targeted at women, is the one above about animal protection policies.

Meanwhile, Alliance has been targeting voters at a constituency level but now has several national ads.

While they shift around their targeting, their most expensive ad mostly targets men in the 18-34 age group.

Sinn Fein has paid for a small number of locally targeted ads from constituency campaigns, but has not bought a single ad from their national page so far in the election.

The SDLP spread their relatively few ads equally across demographic groups. Again, they have put money into local constituency targeting, which seems to be a trend across Northern Ireland.

  • Lavish ad buying from the Lib Dems, while Tories spend sparsely

The Lib Dems spent over £192,000 on ads from the 17-23 November Credit: PA

As the election campaign has gone on, the Liberal Democrats have upped their Facebook ad spend. From 17-23 November, they spent more than £192,000 on Facebook ads alone.

In the same week, the Labour Party spent almost £108,000 also purchasing £29,059 worth of adverts from Jeremy Corbyn’s official Facebook page, showing an increase in campaigning based on their leader.

Meanwhile, The Brexit Party splashed £97,723 of their cash on Facebook ads in that week.

The Conservatives stand out as low spenders, only investing £13,604 into their online ad game. It’s an extraordinarily low spend, falling below the figure for Labour-supporting Momentum and environmental group Greenpeace.

  • A new world for political advertising

The result of all this spending? We'll find out on polling day Credit: ITV/PA

In one way or another, all parties are targeting their ads.

While traditional campaigning is still vital to winning elections, this ability to target political adverts has dramatically changed the relationship between parties and their voters.

We will have to wait to polling day to see what impact it will really have on the election.