Discussing the influence of digital or ‘dark’ advertising in politics

Oluwatofunmi Ayodeji Posted by Oluwatofunmi Ayodeji

Recently our CEO & Founder Ian O’Rourke was interviewed on SLICE: Politics and Personality on BBC Radio 4. The main focus of this episode was to speak to individuals that were in the general election in 2017 on how Facebook was used as a tool in bringing targeted messages to a range of different voters.

This kind of advertising, sometimes referred to as “dark advertising” as it is only visible on individual social media feeds, has been a hot topic of debate recently, giving rise to questions around the ethics and responsibilities of technology companies, and the influence this kind of advertising can have on elections. In 2016, the UK voted to leave the European Union and is scheduled to leave at 11pm GMT on March 29th 2019, and many people today are still debating on whether it was the right thing to do, with people who voted to “out the EU” now wish that they voted to stay “in the EU”. This episode also contains information on how Labour and Conservatives were bidding against each other on Google search terms such as “Dementia Tax” in order to reach to voters to influence them during the referendum.

The Transcript

Jolycon Jenkins: Research from Adthena showed that Labour were bidding on 579 search terms compared to the Conservatives who bid on just a 10th of that. Mostly focused on pushing the views that Jeremy Corbyn wouldn’t be able to negotiate Brexit. But the head-to-head battles over who got the top spot for the people searching on the phrase “Dementia Tax”. Here is Adthena’s CEO, Ian O’Rourke.

Ian: They were both bidding on that, with different positions

Jolycon Jenkins: And you can see what terms they were particularly bidding for?

Ian: Yes, so we have an ability to map out the entire irrelevant landscape of keywords for any given advertiser. And we can say “well, this is everything in the landscape that you may or may not know about as a political party that we see as relevant to what it is you’re trying to do”.

Jolycon Jenkins: So you could do one party and say “the other party are particularly bidding on these terms, you might like to think about it”

Ian: Absolutely, we use insights about what their competitors are doing to drive customer acquisition for themselves

Jolycon Jenkins: It’s quite funny you talk about customer acquisition, i mean that’s clearly where your focus is. But it is exactly the same process for customers, just as voters.

Ian: Yes

Jolycon Jenkins: Does it work in the sense of persuading people, because these search results are very clearly marked as ads, and don’t people discount it knowing that this is just paid for advertising?

Ian: Some studies not that long ago has said that about 35% don’t actually know that the first listings on many search results are actually paid search advertising.

Jolycon Jenkins: And once you drive people to your page, you can test out different messages on them

Ian: They may be running an ad A/B test of having two different landing pages, one of which is slightly different twist on the same message and then see which one had the best performance and then move that to be the only one and then bringing a new experimental one to test that message and use that perhaps across other media.

Jolycon Jenkins: Having a message through that you know plays well will help you when you bid the ad slot on Facebook

Since some university researchers say that today people are not engaged in politics, connecting with voters with their concerns may be a useful way in order to get people engaged. Whether it is for politics or to see which of your competitors are performing well in search, Adthena’s AI Categorization utilizes machine learning to organize the most valuable search terms across your Whole Market. Our convolutional neural networks constantly learn from and adapt to your search landscape, mapping out valuable search terms in each category.

Click here for the full episode: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b5xh1y


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About the author

Oluwatofunmi Ayodeji
Oluwatofunmi Ayodeji
Oluwatofunmi is a Marketing Intern at Adthena from The University of Greenwich. She works alongside Lorna Gill helping with social posts, events, emails, content and more. Her hero is Bill Gates and would love to meet him one day.