Did Facebook Ads shift the 2019 federal election for candidates in Saskatchewan? It depends.
Facebook Ads in political campaigns work. Plain and simple.
But the circumstances under which they are deployed make the bigger picture a little more complicated.
There's absolutely no question that Facebook advertising can be absolutely critical in political campaigns. The fact that Donald Trump has spent over $23 million on Facebook Ads since June 2018 confirms that. Facebook Advertising can be very effective for political campaigns, especially when used properly and with the right goals in mind. Facebook Ads can convert supporters, bring in donations, activate volunteers, and do the thing most important in elections: get supporters to vote when and where they need to.
Having said all that, let's review what happened with Facebook Ads at the national level during the recent 2019 federal campaign.
According to Facebook's Ad Library, the Liberal Party of Canada spent over $2.2 MILLION on Facebook ads Canada-wide during the election, promoting ads on their own page and Justin Trudeau's Facebook page.
Meanwhile, the Conservative Party of Canada spent only $1.5 Million on Facebook ads between their own page and leader Andrew Scheer's page. However, in contrast to the Liberals, the bulk of their own spending came from the main Conservative Party Facebook page - NOT Andrew Scheer's.
What about candidates at the local riding level in Saskatchewan, where 306 Media & Communications is based? Despite a significant effort by Liberal candidates to boost their campaigns using Facebook ads, the Trudeau/Liberal brand was just too negative to overcome in this province.
The Liberal candidate in Regina-Lewvan, Winter Fedyk, spent almost $5,000 on Facebook ads during the writ period, while the NDP's Jigar Patel spent a little over $3,000. However, both candidates were defeated easily by Conservative Party candidate Warren Steinley, who actually ran no Facebook ads.
Interestingly, neither longtime Liberal MP Ralph Goodale nor the Conservative candidate that defeated him, Michael Kram, ran any Facebook Ads during the election.
In Saskatoon, Sheri Benson - the NDP's MP for Saskatoon-West since 2015 and the party's deputy leader - spent over $5,000 on Facebook Ads during the election. However, she was defeated by Conservative candidate Brad Redekopp who, like Steinley, spent hardly anything on Facebook Ads ($132.00).
It should come as no surprise that the most amount spent on Facebook Ads came in Saskatchewan's largest geographic riding, Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill, which covers half of the province. Gary Vidal, the Conservative candidate and eventual winner, spent over $11,000 during the election, while Chief Tammy Cook-Searson, one of the Liberal's star candidates, spent almost $8,000 during the campaign. The previous MP for Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill Georgina Jolibois (NDP) only spent about $4,000 - far behind her two challengers.
Along with a solid and dedicated ground operation (which is THE most important part of a political campaign), Facebook is an incredibly effective advertising tool that should be deployed on any political campaign. To put it simply, if you're not advertising on Facebook you're missing out on a key chance to reach supporters and get them out to vote for you.
However, sometimes external factors can make impossible any dedicated and strong effort to make a difference in a campaign. The 2019 federal election in Saskatchewan is that example. The Justin Trudeau brand was so disliked in the province that it made it nearly impossible for Liberal candidates to have any chance at all - no matter how much they spent on Facebook Ads.
Dale Richardson is the Founder & Director of 306 Media & Communications, a Saskatchewan-based agency specializing in political campaigns and communications, digital advocacy and advertising, and media relations.