Over the past four years, our company has purchased millions of dollars in Facebook advertising on behalf of clients. In general, Facebook advertising accounts for 40 to 60 percent of a political campaign’s digital ads budget.
In recent weeks, we’ve been asked by clients and political observers alike how the new Facebook changes may impact campaigns this year.
What are those changes?
Last month, Facebook rolled a series of new policies for political and issue ads in a media conference at their Menlo Park headquarters. Facebook’s product manager Rob Leathern shared the following:
“First, Page admins will have to submit their government-issued IDs and provide a physical mailing address for verification,
“Second, we’ll confirm each address by mailing a letter with a unique access code that only their specific Facebook account can use, and,
“Third, advertisers will also have to disclose what candidate, organization or business they represent.
“Once authorized, an advertiser’s election-related ads will be clearly marked in people’s Facebook and Instagram feeds. This is similar to the disclosure you see today for political ads on TV. The political label will also list the person, company, or organization that paid for the ad with a “paid for by” disclosure.”
The reforms listed above generally mirror what is required to place ads on traditional media platforms like TV or radio. While these new requirements will increase setup time for clients, they are unlikely to have a substantive impact on the way most advertisers do business in Florida politics.
The primary concern we have for our clients is Facebook’s public ads archive for federal races. Again, here is Leathern describing the new feature:
“This summer, we’ll launch a public archive showing all ads that ran with a political label. Beyond the ad creative itself, we’ll also show how much money was spent on each ad, the number of impressions it received, and the demographic information about the audience reached. And we will display those ads for four years after they ran. So researchers, journalists, watchdog organizations, or individuals who are just curious will be able to see all of these ads in one place.
“This will offer an unmatched view of paid political messages on the platform.”
As described above, the ads archive could permit opposing campaigns to reverse engineer a campaign’s strategy.
How the archive is implemented matters. If the archive displays stats and creative at the “campaign” level (Facebook’s broadest classification of ads) savvy buyers will place several decoy ads sets to obscure their true intent. If, however, the archive exposes data at the more granular ad-set or ad level, federal campaigns will need to use Facebook with caution.
Our breakdown for clients is as follows:
Federal candidate and issue campaigns should be prepared to allocate budget away from Facebook and to other ad networks that lessen the threat of exposing campaign strategy. Facebook will remain a critical piece of the digital campaign, but targeted persuasion campaigns may need to be run outside of Facebook.
Local and state campaigns should not be impacted by the changes, as they only apply at the federal level. We do, however, anticipate that Facebook may expand the new political ads policies to local and state races for the 2020 cycle. If that happens, our firm will use the lessons learned with our federal clients in 2018 to advise state and local clients.
From our perspective, the digital marketing sphere has always evolved rapidly, and adjusting to new platform policies are simply part of working in the advertising industry.
Joe Clements and Matt Farrar are co-founders of Strategic Digital Services, a Tallahassee-based tech company, and Bundl, an app that coordinates political contributions.