How Labor and the Liberals geo-target voters on Facebook – The Australian Financial Review

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Mr Dutton, who is regularly characterised as Lord Voldemort by satirical newspaper The Betoota Advocate, is a weapon for the Australian Labor Party, who want to emphasise his role in leading a scare-and-divide “African Gangs” campaign last year.

One reason for targeting Victorian voters is the fact that Victorian Labor, which ran a 2018 state re-election campaign based on infrastructure and development, absolutely smashed the Victorian state Liberals at the polling booths, who ran a racially charged law and order campaign.

Meanwhile, Liberal MP Jason Wood, who holds the marginal seat of La Trobe in Melbourne and backed Mr Dutton in the 2018 #LibSpill, is running ads to try and distance himself from Mr Dutton’s reputation.

Liberal MP Jason Wood is running ads to target different communities living in his electorate.  Facebook

Younger Facebook users are being targeted with ads to do with the Liberals’ mental health campaign promises.  Facebook

Over in the marginal seat of Banks in the south-western suburbs of Sydney, Labor candidate Chris Gambian is pumping out highly differentiated Facebook ads based on Labor’s increased public school funding policy promise.

Different school names appear in the ad depending on the user’s location.  Facebook

Facebook ads like this are easy to make, and can reach huge numbers of people cheaply.  Facebook

His opponent Liberal MP David Coleman is yet to launch any Facebook ad campaigns.

How geo-targeting works

Media communications manager at the Youth Affairs Council Victoria Thomas Feng says that people’s smartphones and laptops constantly log their locations. This means Facebook and Google (which owns YouTube) know where users are and when.

The process of running targeted campaigns that link up to that information then works in the following way.

“The parties can create a map of Australia, divide it by electorate, and use data to identify the different demographics and psychographics of the people in that electorate. A very basic example might be, Warringah is wealthy, white and economically conservative,” said advertising specialist Jack Rothery.

Data can be obtained from both publicly available datasets, like census data from the ABS, or private companies like Roy Morgan and Nielsen.

Campaigners then set up mini-campaigns in Facebook (with the option for those ads to also appear on Instagram) targeted to specific audiences. Different ads can run for different age groups and genders within an electorate, who can be geo-targeted to a 16 kilometre radius.

This means that one user can see an ad on Facebook that is completely different to what another user a few suburbs over sees.

So what’s the difference between this and, say, the targeted messaging of a mailbox drop or local billboard?

“The difference with this is its done on a grander scale, just from an office with much greater ease, and the message doesn’t go through the same regulation,” Mr Rothery said.

And it’s effective. The more relevant a message is, the more likely it is to be noticed and considered, and this kind of advertising increases the likelihood that the message each voter receives will be really relevant.

Real time ads

Unlike a billboard, social media ads can be switched out and pushed on social almost immediately. When The Australian Financial Review ran a piece that Morrison’s tax cuts would require a $40 billion spending cut last Tuesday morning, the Labor Party had ads on Facebook within hours linking to the story.

One risk is that over-targeting “could creep people out”, Mr Rothery said.

However, the success of the UK “Vote Leave” campaign suggests that this kind of advertising can play a big role in swinging voters.

“It turns out that if you started from scratch you would struggle to create a better communications medium for elections than Facebook. Its granular, hyper-targeted audience data allows you to break down the voting population into very precise sub-groups,” wrote marketing professor Mark Ritson for Marketing Week.

“Vote Leave was also brilliant at tactical execution. It served 1 billion targeted digital ads, mostly via Facebook, which proved an essential and influential medium for the Leave campaign.”

Facebook actually banned foreign ads during Ireland’s abortion referendum due to fears that the result would be tainted by US interest groups bombarding Irish voters Facebook newsfeeds.

To what extent social media advertising will determine the outcome of the May 2019 election remains to be seen. But parties will no doubt hike up their digital spend in the coming weeks to flood voters with ads that they hope will help them win the sweetest prize one can win in a liberal democracy – a person’s vote.

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