New Conservative ad campaign strategy hints at a snap election

A new advertising campaign fronted by Boris Johnson tries to raise money and identify groups open to voting Conservative: two objectives which signal a snap election is increasingly likely.

On the day that Boris Johnson took over as leader of the Conservatives, the party deployed a new advertising campaign on Facebook.

Primarily the ad campaign is about recruiting new supporters and members. A rumour doing the rounds is that the Conservative Party are cash-strapped; new members generate immediate revenue and new registered supporters can be contacted for donations and free non-financial support (knocking on doors, sharing things online etc…).

When new party leaders takeover there is typically a jump in the number of registered supporters and members (the Liberal Democrats reported that they had 4,500 new members in the 24 hours after Jo Swinson’s election as leader); this new Conservative Party advertising campaign is hoping to make that jump as high as possible.

There are 5-7 master adverts (depending on your definition of what is a master and what is a version) and there are a few small variations on each; to give you an example of the variations, one video has a red banner running across the bottom and another version has a blue banner.

The adverts are aimed at a range of different audiences and in total 500+ individual ads have been deployed. However, lots of the executions are identical – the targeting will be the only difference – and many of the adverts have already been turned off.

The large volume of executions has led some to draw parallels with the Vote Leave / Cambridge Analytica referendum campaign and whilst this technique was made famous by that campaign, the practice is now fairly common place in election advertising.

The overall message in the ads is very consistent: deliver Brexit by 31st October and focus on the NHS, schools, police, housing and the economy.  Those issues are now consistently the most salient amongst the public, so it’s unsurprising Boris has chosen them. 

The reason for the variation of content of the ads is that they’re testing to see if certain executions perform better than others; if there’s one that is particularly effective, they will then put more money behind it, leading to a better return on their investment. 

And the Conservatives will be testing different audiences – age, gender, ethnicity, geography, interests… etc… Again this will be in pursuit of a bigger return.  If some groups are more likely to click, give data and subsequently join / donate / promote content online, then it’s more profitable to over-invest in that group.

The reason why many of the adverts will have already been made ‘inactive’ – despite having the same content as ones that remain active – is that the selected audience wasn’t performing as well as others.

Whilst raising money and building an activist base will be the primary objective, the testing will also give them information on what areas of the country to focus their campaigning attention.

The demographic data gleamed from the Facebook ad campaign will inform their list of target seats (as well as more traditional polling); for example if particular demographics are engaging with the advertising it’s an indicator that they may be more open to voting Conservative.  You can see if those demographic groups are concentrated in particular areas of the country and focus your resources on seats with larger percentages of potential supporters.

If you were planning a general election campaign, two things that would be high on your ‘to do’ list would be raising money and finding out where your likely support can be found.

This ad campaign is a clear sign that the Conservatives are getting ready for a snap election if a deal with the EU isn’t passed by Halloween.

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