Spending on Facebook ads gives voters glimpse into mayoral candidates' campaign strategies

·3 min read
Edmonton mayoral candidate Mike Nickel has been outspending his competition on Facebook advertising. (François Joly/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Edmonton mayoral candidate Mike Nickel has been outspending his competition on Facebook advertising. (François Joly/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Mike Nickel has spent considerably more on Facebook ads in the past three months than any other candidate running to be Edmonton's mayor.

Facebook's Ad Library, a searchable collection of ads on Facebook apps and services, including Instagram, shows that Nickel spent $18,465 on ads between July 6 and Oct. 3.

Amarjeet Sohi and Michael Oshry spent just over half that amount in the same period, spending $9,616 and $9,367 respectively on Facebook ads.

Cheryll Watson spent $7,092 while Rick Comrie, Kim Krushell and Diana Steele each spent under $1,000. Other candidates seeking the mayor's job in the Oct. 18 municipal election appear not to be advertising on Facebook.

Combined, Edmonton mayoral candidates have spent about $46,000 on Facebook ads during the past 90 days.

The figures do not capture how much candidates spent to produce the ads, nor do they reflect what candidates have spent on other forms of advertising.

But two Edmonton-based digital marketers, neither of whom is working for any of the mayoral candidates, say they give voters a glimpse into candidates' campaign strategies.

Money isn't everything, marketer says

Anas Reaz, digital marketing director at Out Origin, said Facebook is an important tool for political advertising, but just because a candidate is spending more money doesn't mean they have the most effective social media strategy.

"You could spend $100,000 in a day but still not get the right amount of engagement if you're just showing things that will not resonate with the audience," he said.

Madeleine Cummings/CBC
Madeleine Cummings/CBC

Reaz said candidates need to build relationships with voters over time, showing them six or seven ads or "touch points" so their names and faces are recognizable by election day.

"You can't just, on the first date, ask them to get married, right?" he said. "You have to nurture the audience to get to a stage where they're like, 'This is my guy.'"

Effective advertisers, he said, use platforms like Facebook and Google to remarket their messages to people who engaged with previous posts.

Social strategy

Duncan McGillivray, digital marketing director at Strong Coffee Marketing, said Facebook data reveals different demographic targeting strategies among the candidates.

He noticed that many of Nickel's ads were being shown more to men than women. Facebook Ad Library data showed that all active Nickel ads on Oct. 6, for example, were shown more to men than women.

"I suspect that is part of their targeting strategy," McGillivray said.

Watson's ads, on the other hand, "definitely seem to be geared towards women, just from the visuals," he said.

One of her ads, which linked to her policy on making Edmonton a safer city for women and girls, was shown only to women between the ages of 18 and 64.

Cheryll Watson 2021/Facebook
Cheryll Watson 2021/Facebook

The candidates' ads also differ in messaging.

McGillivray said in general, higher-spending candidates have been running ads about their campaign policies, while lower-spending candidates have been more focused on fundraising and getting their names out there.

Some candidates are using Facebook ads to criticize their competitors; Nickel and Oshry have both run ads featuring Sohi.

Michael Oshry For Mayor/Facebook
Michael Oshry For Mayor/Facebook

McGillivray said he was impressed by Sohi's Facebook ads most but said Nickel's ads seem "more grassroots" and "less brand-heavy," with lots of emojis and posts tied to specific locations in the city.

Amarjeet Sohi/Facebook, Mike Nickel/Facebook
Amarjeet Sohi/Facebook, Mike Nickel/Facebook

McGillivray predicts the mayoral candidates will spend a lot more on social media in the final days of the campaign.

"They have to get creative if they want to try and get their message out there, so that's why I'm surprised that we're only seeing four or five candidates really pushing Facebook," he said.

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