A cat picture that only young people get to see, a message about higher pensions that only reach the over-55s and candidate MPs who spread a different message in their own province than outside. Political parties are making use of this in the run-up to the parliamentary elections on 17 March targeting of advertisements: accurately targeting specific target groups.
Together with De Groene Amsterdammer and Pointer, the NOS is investigating the online campaigns of parties. Although the elections won’t be held for another three weeks, chances are you will come across advertisements from political parties.
Tom te Buck of campaign agency BKB, the amount of political advertisements is still somewhat disappointing. “CDA and GroenLinks in particular are active in terms of campaign, otherwise not much is happening yet.” He expects it to erupt after Sunday’s first TV election debate, if parties can spread fragments of the debate.
The CDA is the largest advertiser on Instagram and Facebook. In the past thirty days alone, that party has spent 150,000 euros on advertisements via its national page. That is regardless of the pages of individual candidate MPs, such as party leader Wopke Hoekstra (good for 10,000 euros), and regional branches of the party.
However, the Christian Democrats do not want to say anything about their online strategy, while it stands out the most.
The CDA makes extensive use of targeting: a message is not shown to all potential voters at once, but is served in a targeted manner. In doing so, the party seems to take gender, age and region into account.
“All advertisements, about 1,600, look alike,” said Te Buck. “It is often a photo of party leader Hoekstra looking straight into the camera with all kinds of different messages.” In this way, the party investigates which message resonates best with voters, according to the campaign strategist.
The CDA has many advertisements with party leader Hoekstra in the lead:
GroenLinks does that differently. A message that elections will be held in a month’s time was widely circulated, but only voters under 35 were shown a cat’s picture. That was also the intention, GroenLinks confirms.
This cat picture was aimed at voters under 35, one ad was targeted at all age groups:
Individual candidate MPs also embrace targeting. For example, number 28 of the PvdA, Abassin Nessar, is distributing a film especially for residents of Flevoland that was recorded in front of the town hall in his hometown of Almere. Residents of other provinces are shown a video of his family at the kitchen table.
Nessar is targeting one ad to the general public and another specifically targeting voters in his province:
“We look at which substantive message suits the target group well”, Nessar confirms. “And we also look at which target group I fit myself. Who am I recognizable to? I am 35, have a young family, live in Flevoland.”
It is unclear exactly how effective the online campaigns are. The two largest parties in the polls, the VVD and the PVV, have recently spent relatively little or virtually nothing on online advertisements.
Most people scroll past it and only get a tiny bit of the message.
“My analysis is that it is very difficult to attract new voters through micro-targeting,” says Te Buck of BKB. “Most ads you see for fractions of seconds. Most people scroll past them and only get a tiny bit of the message.”
At the same time, political parties have to. “Facebook’s news feed is much more than in the previous election on posts from friends,” said Te Buck. To get in between, ads are needed.
GroenLinks also notices this. “In 2017, 60 percent of our digital reach was through the news overview, and 40 percent through advertisements,” said campaign leader Wijnand Duyvendak. “Now we can achieve 10 percent ourselves, for the rest we can pay extra.”