Facebook ad buys tell us who wants to talk to us most

Woman tries to cover her eyes as a hand holds a cellphone with Facebook app on the screen

FACEBOOK ADS AREN’T THE SECRET SAUCE ANY MORE. Not since the Russians used them to sell enough Americans on Donald Trump to make him president of the USA in 2016. We all know how they can work.

A new CBC analysis reveals that who has taken that lesson most to heart in Canada depends on the province you live in. It turns out to be unions in Ontario more than anywhere else; greens more in Quebec.

35,000 ads analyzed

The CBC analysis was based on 35,000 ads published this year on Facebook’s new ad library. It confirms that advertisers are making use of Facebook’s ability to target audiences by location, delivering tailored messages on local issues.

In Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan unions were among the seven biggest advertisers on Facebook. Political parties, except for the NDP, were also among the top seven in every province. The Green Party was the number one Facebook advertizer in Quebec. Greenpeace was the number three Facebook ad user in Quebec.

Three teachers unions in Ontario have been running ads critical of provincial government cuts to education. In Alberta the Canadian Taxpayers Federation used Facebook ads to urge politicians to deny equalization payments to provinces that oppose oil pipelines that would travel through their territory.

Trigger words

The top two words in Alberta-targeted ads are “pipelines” and “equalization” because of a campaign from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation with the slogan, “No pipelines? No equalization!”

“Energy” and “move” were popular words in ads targeted in B.C., mostly due to ads from the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) promoting pipelines as a solution to climate change and as a contributor to the economy.

CEPA ran more than 1,250 ads nationwide, 280 of which were seen only in B.C., making it Facebook’s biggest political advertiser in the province.

The province has resisted the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which would increase the volume of Alberta crude carried to a port in Burnaby, B.C.

In Ontario, “education,” was a top word due to the nearly 200 ads run by three teacher associations: the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. All of their ads denounced the province’s recent cuts to schools.

However, they were all outdone by North99, an advocacy group that used petitions and surveys in Facebook ads as a way to collect contact information from users.The group’s 300 ads were shown mostly in Ontario and were highly critical of Doug Ford’s government.

North99’s output was topped by Fair Path Forward, a Facebook page run by Canadians for Clean Prosperity, an advocacy group that supports a carbon tax as a solution to climate change. It ran 450 separate ads aimed at Facebook users in Ontario, the highest total in any province so far.

‘Free enterprise’ biggest spenders

The biggest spender on Facebook ads in Canada was a group called Shaping Canada’s Future, which describes itself as a “free enterprise oriented” group. The group has spent close to $190,000 this year on Faceobok ads.

Facebook requires that ads about social issues or politics contain a disclaimer and disclose the organization that paid for them. None of the ads by Shaping Canada’s Future had this disclaimer, despite being political, and were taken down by the social network.

Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, spent more than $130,000 on 41 video ads since June urging Canadians to vote with workers in mind.

The federal Liberal and Conservative parties were the fourth and fifth biggest spenders, respectively.

New rules discourage right wingers

Since the new advertising rules came into effect last month, the number of political and issue ads on Facebook dropped significantly, from roughly 14,000 in June to 9,500 in July.

Ads posted in June were not subject to third-party rules, which means the groups running those ads were not obligated to register with Elections Canada and publicly release their donors and spending.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which had run ads supporting pipelines and opposing inheritance taxes and the Liberal government’s media bailout, ran 330 ads in June, but only one in July.


- 30 -



Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.