26 Jul 2018

45 per cent of Vote Leave Facebook ads were on immigration

The DCMS Select Committee has published ads placed on Facebook by some of the Leave campaigns through AIQ in the EU referendum. It gives you a fascinating insight into the messages that were being pushed out through the internet.

Since the referendum, some pro-Leave supporters have claimed that immigration played a minor role in the leave campaign and was not a significant influence on the result. The data accompanying the ads suggests that is not what the high command of Vote Leave thought. They pushed the immigration message harder than any other in terms of ads sent online and the messaging could be particularly stark – arrows showing tens of millions of Turks or Albanians coming into the UK, for instance.

Crunching the numbers in the data Facebook has provided to the Select Committee shows that there were some 1200 separate Vote Leave  online ads in all.  Adding up the ones that have an immigration message, they account for 45% of the ads deployed on voters in the campaign.

The straight Take Back Control/NHS message accounts for 30% of the ads. Other issues (see below) cover 14% and more specific Vote Leave promo’s account for 11% of the ads.

There were 9 super-ads that got to between 2 to 5m screens ( “ad impressions,” in the Facebook jargon, defined by Facebook as “the number of times an ad was displayed on the screens of the target audience members”).  Of these big hitters, 3 carried the NHS campaign message and 5 were immigration messages (including the one below saying “5.23m more immigrants are moving to the UK!”).

Amongst the “other issues” section you find some very specific targeting: for instance, voters who are presumably thought to have an animal welfare interest are told that we have to leave the EU to protect polar bears or stop bullfighting in Spain (see below).

Interestingly, Vote Leave felt there was sufficient uncertainty in voters’ minds about Jeremy Corbyn’s position on Brexit that they could deploy the Labour leader as an advocate for their own side. In an ad targeted at left of centre voters, a front page invites you to click on the message: “I agree with Corbyn on the EU.” It then reveals the second page quoting Mr Corbyn saying:

“The EU takes away from national parliaments the power to set economic policy and hands it over to an unelected set of bankers…” – Jeremy Corbyn  has a long history of opposing the EU. Where do you stand? Vote to leave the EU on 23 June! Do You Agree? Vote Leave”

Here are some of the Facebook ad front pages mentioned:


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