At the time of writing, the polls for the 2019 General Election are due to open in less than two days -and the results are anyone’s guess - but we’ve noticed some recent patterns of online activity from some of the main political parties which have clearly been designed to reach and engage with people in online spaces like never before.
In a world where more people can be reached online than ever, and the traditional media formats have potentially less influence than they’ve had in decades. So, what can we, as professional marketers, learn from how the UK’s political parties have leveraged online marketing activity in the build up to this year’s General Election?
Back in October 2019, before the snap election had even been announced (but was looking like more of a possibility) the Conservative Party were trying to gather data on the topics that were most important to people in the UK by using promoted surveys on Facebook to gauge opinion. At the very least, the data gathered here will have played a pivotal role in the party’s key messages for their election campaign.
Fundamentally, businesses know that understanding their customers properly is the key to success. What types of content and messaging will resonate best with your audience personas? What questions do they need answering or what problems are they trying to solve? Getting under the skin of the people you are trying to reach should form a vital part of your marketing strategy. It might not be surveys; it may be focus groups, advanced CRO, phone calls with existing customers or a combination of all of these things.
All the major UK parties are spending big on promoting their content on Facebook, amongst other social media sites.
The Conservative Party seem to have gone for a sheer volume approach, with up to several thousand Facebook ads running at the same time, mainly targeting specific geographical areas with messaging aimed at local issues and about local candidates (usually the opposition). The stats show that between Oct -7th Dec 2019, they spent just over £250,000 on Facebook ads, with around £75,000 of that in the first week of December. At the time of writing, over 600 ads are currently active, with a total of more than 15,000 having been live at some point in the last couple of months.
Labour’s approach seems to have been a little more nationally focused, although regional targeting has clearly been used too. With a total of around 640 different ads used in the same time frame as above, but a spend that is considerably higher (£430k since Oct and £163k in first week of Dec) then this does show a distinctively different strategy in play.
The Liberal Democrats fall somewhere in the middle of these parties for their Facebook paid ads, with over 4,700 separate ads being used, a spend of more than £310k from Oct-Dec 7th and £128k spent last week. The Brexit Party’s Facebook ad spending took a bit dip in the first week of December, with just over £2k spent, and a total spend since October of just under £180k – with a total of 1,500 separate ads used. The Greens have used 240 ads and spent just over £30k overall in this period, with a large chunk of that (£22k) spent in the first week of Dec. The SNP have clearly not prioritised Facebook ads, with a total spend of just £1,500 (all of it in the first week of Dec) and just 17 ads used since October.
One of the most noticeable differences between the main parties is that the Conservatives have spent big on YouTube for this election. A YouTube homepage takeover was seen last weekend, which meant a video advert for the party was shown (via auto-play) to most people who used YouTube in the UK during that time period. In less than 24 hours, more than 3.5 million people had seen at least 30 seconds of the video. On the morning of Monday 9th Dec, a new campaign was launched, with a shorter different video being used – right at peak time for bored commuters to be passing the time on this platform. Sheer volume mass marketing took precedence here rather than a targeted approach to this activity. The cost of this kind of YouTube takeover is thought to be around £250,000 per campaign.
It’s not really possible to judge which approach has been the most effective at this point in time for these political parties, but common sense and years of marketing experience leads us to the conclusion that the best bang for buck for businesses is via carefully targeted ads rather than the mass market scattergun approach – if engagements and conversions are the main objective. However, if brand awareness is the main focus, you can’t turn your nose up at reaching millions of people fairly indiscriminately. It’s less likely to bring a direct return on your investment but could have a different impact on overall perception of your brand, which could eventually prove to be successful and profitable for you.
Twitter, as a platform, took themselves out of the equation somewhat when they banned political advertising. However, ads are just one of the ways in which political opinion can be leveraged online. Leaving aside the contentious issues such as the potential use of Twitter bots (fake accounts that are run via software rather than by people) by political parties to flood people’s replies and timelines with political messages that are supposedly real people’s opinions, we’ll focus instead on genuine political conversations, memes and sharable content.
With each political party having access to their own groups of followers and activists, spreading politically motivated content organically tends to happen better with ‘unofficial’ accounts – perhaps these ‘real’ people are seen as more trustworthy? Or, perhaps they have simply the freedom to express their opinions without needing to stick to the impartiality rules that restrict the mainstream media.
Whilst everyone on Twitter or Facebook can create their own echo chamber if they wish by only following similar minded people, content that goes viral tend to break through this. With half of UK adults using social media for news, organic content could have more political influence than you might think.
This basically highlights the power of user generated content, which can be leveraged by virtually any type of business. For retailers, having real people wax lyrical about your products to their followers is marketing gold, especially when it’s a post that hasn’t come from a paid partnership or #ad campaign. For lead gen businesses, it could be a positive review via Twitter, or a testimonial from a happy client. More social proof than influencer marketing, the key with UGC is that it’s real. It also isn’t under your control, which means there is more risk attached than leveraging your owned media. However, people want realness; genuine content that comes from members of the public always works better than something branded, which can look contrived or too try-hard.
Whatever your political persuasion, we think that the ways in which political parties try to reach voters carries some learnings for all marketers, regardless of what we think of the messages themselves.