How the federal parties have been using Facebook this election

Liberal and NDP spend with the company's platforms alone is set to surpass total digital spending from 2019.

With the looming Sept. 20 Federal Election just days away, the online Facebook and Instagram campaigns involving the three major political parties – the Liberals, the Progressive Conservatives and the New Democrats – have been ramped up compared to 2019.

According to the Facebook ad library report, the Liberal Party of Canada has spent $2.378 million on 7269 ads between June 17 and Sept 14, with ads directly authorized by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau adding $1.123 million to the tally for an additional 5213 ads and a collective total of $3.501 million.

That spending puts the Liberal spending within striking distance to the $3.828 million it spent on all online advertising in the 2019 election, according to returns filed with Elections Canada, and will surpass it if trends continued through the final six days of the election.

Up until Sept. 14,┬áThe New Democratic Party of Canada spent $1.193 million for 903 Facebook ads, with party leader and candidate Jagmeet Singh supplementing a $297,128 expenditure for 245 extra ads, which now surpasses it total digital spending in 2019 ($1.289 million). The Conservative Party of Canada spent $1.479 million on 1015 ads with PC leader Erin O’Toole adding $246,498 to the amount for an additional 228 ads (the party spent $4.59 million on all digital ads last election).

The Facebook spending data is available through the company’s ad report and publicly accessible ad library, which it set up prior to the previous election in response to ad transparency requirements, both in Canada and in other jurisdictions. Other social networks – including Twitter and TikTok, as well as ad networks like Google – decided to ban all paid political advertising globally ahead of the 2020 election in the U.S., due to the propensity for misinformation and the regulatory requirements that came with them.

Still, the influential audiences of platforms that do accept ads – Facebook, Facebook-owned Instagram and Snapchat – are too good to pass up.

“We’re spending, on average, close to eight hours a day viewing digital ads,”says Ben Skinazi, SVP of marketing and communications at ad exchange Sharethrough. “So, if you want to reach people, digital is key. If you were any advertiser today, you would not be thinking of a campaign without thinking digital, and I think it’s the same thing for political parties. They’re advertising their own programs.”

The differences in social approaches is not just in volume, but in how many versions of those ads are running. Skinazi observes that the Liberals are investing more in ad iterations than the other two parties combined.

“The Liberals have offered more than 5,000 different creative ad iterations in the last 30 days of the campaign that they’re delivering through the platform,” he points out, with the Conservative numbers just under 1000 and the NDP around 750. When a party has more iterations, it suggests they are being more responsive, be it to polling numbers, new issues that arise, moments on the campaign trail or regions of the country where the party sees a need for more attention. “The Liberals are really cementing their campaign in a way that is providing accuracy in targeting people.”

In the 2019 election, digital advertising spend by all three major parties was still surpassed by TV spend. While the public won’t get a picture of what that balance looks like in 2021 until returns are disclosed post-election, Skinazi expects digital to soon be a top priority – if not in 2021, then in another election in the near future.