by JACK BREEN
Election campaigning has changed forever since the rise of social media. The ability to hyper-target niche socioeconomic groups and incredibly accurate geographic areas means new tactics and makes it harder for media and the public to get a sense of the messaging used by political parties.
With “dark social” ads, which have been around for the last 15 years, advertisers could originally create specific ads for each niche target audience, and no one else was the wiser. This obviously had serious implications for the integrity of elections and democracies.
In response, and largely triggered by the perceived impact of dark social and misinformation on the 2016 US presidential election, in 2018, Meta (Facebook) launched new rules and processes for political advertising and transparency measures for ad creative and spend details. They only rolled out in Australia in 2020, so this will be our first federal election where Meta’s transparency tools (and other platforms’ equivalents) are available.
So, after hitting the half-way point of the election, I thought it would be interesting to make use of these new transparency tools to take a look at whether political parties are using higher education themes in their social media advertising to win over voters. We are a sector that’s highly impacted by government funding – it’s important to know who’s fighting for universities and TAFE …if anyone.
First, let’s look at the overall picture. For the below analysis (30 days to April 29), I looked at advertising from the parties’ main Facebook/Instagram pages, plus the party leaders’ accounts. I’ve included the major parties, those who have seats currently (and use paid social), and key players around the symbolic battleground seat of Kooyong, where the Treasurer is fighting it out with ‘teal’ candidate Dr Monique Ryan. It’s important to remember that there are many more individual MPs, state branches and a myriad of other interest groups which are all contributing to the overall flurry of advertising, plus YouTube/Google, Snapchat (Twitter, TikTok and LinkedIn ban political advertising), and other platforms that aren’t included here.
(last 30 days)
|Number of Ads (last 30 days)|
|Labor & Albo||$593,189||1989|
|Liberal & Scomo||$181,813||406|
|Nationals / LNP QLD||$21,335||40|
|Greens & Adam Bandt||$17,098||44|
|UAP & Clive Palmer||$355,927||65|
|Hanson’s One Nation||$1,049||2|
|Monique Ryan & Kooyong Indi’s||$43,323||81|
Overall, it’s clear that Labor is spending big this time around and they have the most ad variants (which could highlight a more complex targeting strategy/varying messages). They are spending more than three times the Liberal Party. My observation, however, is the Libs’ creative is much more “digital native” and meme-like, using satire and infographics, where Labor’s ads do seem more like traditional advertising on digital placements. Interestingly, if you zoom out to include pre-campaign advertising (since August 2020), Palmer’s UAP has clearly spent more than both majors combined – $1.5 million (not to mention his eye-watering $15 million on Google and YouTube in a similar period).
But who’s campaigning on higher education? Well, at least so far, it’s not one of the primary themes being used to win over voters. Only 11 per cent ($154K) of the spend for the above listed accounts over the last month has meaningfully mentioned education.
|Meta spend that mentions Education, University or TAFE as a key message||Per cent of their total spend in last 30 days|
|Labor & Albo||$96,100||16%|
|UAP & Clive Palmer||$53,000||15%|
|Greens & Adam Bandt||$5,600||33%|
“Funding education and training” is a line that is used by Labor when combined with other key messages, and notably around $61K of their spend was on ads that heavily featured “fee-free TAFE” as a key message.
In a surprising turn of events, both UAP (15 per cent of spend) and the Greens (a third of spend) have had major ads running with almost the same key messaging of making university and TAFE free, along with wiping student debt.
While it’s far from perfect – and unlikely that most voters will take the time to look into the social posts they’re serving others who have different interests or demographics to them – at least the platforms are going some way to increasing transparency. If nothing else, it’s quite interesting to get under the hood and browse what the parties are saying behind the scenes – take a look yourself at the interactive transparency reports for Facebook or Google (you can click the Ad Library to search all the ads for individual parties/candidate’s pages).
Jack Breen is the Social Media Manager at UNSW Sydney