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Analyzing the Facebook ads placed by the US presidential candidates (medium.com)
139 points by davidfoster 65 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 35 comments

How exactly did they get access to the Facebook Ad Library API? You need special permission for that: https://www.facebook.com/ads/library/api/

Also, per those docs, ad spend is a range; I'm not sure how the article infers exact values.

No, you don't, at least not in the sense of "Facebook approves your use case based on some subjective criteria."

Per the page you linked, as long as you verify your ID/location, are from one of the countries where the Ad Library has launched, and agree to the Facebook Platform Policy, you can get access.

This is awesome. There's a vast amount of data being made available, and it's great that people are making that data more accessible through visualizations and pattern detection.

There's a site that does a similar kind of analysis and offers regular updates to their reports: https://www.adspend2020.com/

I'd like to see something similar on for YouTube and Twitter for the recent Hong Kong protests, I'm seeing lots of clearly political adverts on both platforms labeling protestors as "Black Terror" and the such.


Gender and age are interesting. But elections are won or lost based on ad copy targeted at interest groups... neither appear to be available in this analysis(?)

From an outsiders perspective I would think that people target interest groups to get campaign funds, then activists to to get campaign workers and last voters when there is just a short time left that neither money nor worker will improve polling results.

But then we have preliminaries and other pre-elections where polling results will influence where both money and people will go, so I would guess the split between the three goes up and down through out the years before general election.

Yeah this analysis is great, but we have actually been classifying Facebook Ad Spend by issue i.e. Environment, Economy, Guns, etc - check it out on our site www.adspend2020.com

The attack ad category is very interesting but I suspect also very controversial.

It would also be interesting to see how many ads are identically shared between candidates of same party and how large percentage is unique for each candidate, and preferable being able to select them out (maybe a bit fuzzy so the difference is not just a few characters at the end that adds 2% uniqueness).

The D ads right now are all about fundraising and email list building.

Trump is doing some persuasion, and also they have a goal of building contact and social info for a huge swatch of low propensity voters; and they seem to be doing a great job at it.

Interestingly enough, it might be on purpose the Democrats are not targeting old white men. There could be something to be said that if the 60 year old football loving men of the world get bombarded with Elizabeth Warren ads they will turn out to vote AGAINST her when they otherwise would've stayed home.

60 year old white men have voted in every election for the past 40 years and people generally don’t switch ideology this late in life. The democrats strategy has always been to improve turnout from groups that dont vote in every election. There are more democrats in the US than republicans, but not everyone votes. Elections are determined on getting good turnout, not swaying people to jump ship to your side.

This is an interesting article show casing what kind of data is available through the API. There are many graphs, lots of data. But, little insight from my perspective. Democrats are rather targeting women and younger demographics than Republicans. Oh well...

since when do you have to pay to read Medium posts? We have our clients use it for 'blog' content for ease and SEO, but wouldn't advise if the articles can't be read for free...

For many many months. it seems to be inconsistent like they are still figuring out their strategy.

But there is no input from the campaigns about how they choose their spending. I might guess they do their a/b testing and keep the ads that engage users more. this might be indicative of each candidate's audience. Assuming that this is true Sanders seems to be having the widest reach, judging from how close m/f ratio is to 50%

From the article:

"Facebook allows you to select the location, age range, gender and ‘interests’ of your audience. Only people that fall into your target audience will see the sponsored ad. Specifying ‘interests’ indirectly affects the distribution of age, gender and location."

This is great data, but missing one crucial piece: how much reach did each candidate achieve given their spend? Both what they directly paid for with the ads, and then what the ads achieved organically beyond the spend.

My suspicion is that Trump, by being outrageous, realizes far cheaper effective ad rates (i.e. when you factor in both paid & organic reach) than any other candidate.

Clearly some candidates have learned from prev elections and some have not.

This is super cool! I'd be really curious to see how the messaging to particular demographics compares as well. Wild that the Trump campaign is spending so much money...

Why? The D's as a group are outspending Trump, in fact the top 3 D's are outspending Trump. I'd be interested to see this type of analysis for the 2016 (and 2012 and 2008) elections.

Well it surprises me because Trump already has the nomination and it's not even time for the general election yet, the D's are essentially running right now, Trump is preparing to run.

Edit: actually looking at his ads, they're asking for fundraising so that makes sense if he's getting positive ROI.

Trump doesn’t technically have the nomination yet - https://fortune.com/2019/04/22/republican-presidential-candi...

I wonder how effective it all is. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out it’s mostly wasted money.

This link re-routes to Medium, can we get that fixed?

i don’t have a facebook account so i get a warning at the top: “By clicking or navigating the site, you agree to allow our collection of information on and off Facebook through cookies”

this is so against gdpr it’s crazy.

facebook, what the hell?

Are you an EU citizen?

I think the question is "Are you in Europe?"

I am and I see the same text.

otherwise you just to provide them a few details, accept some bs agreement which no-one really cares about and then you’re set.

Clinton didn’t spend anything on Facebook? The data is also a little screwed considering that it was Trump and Hillary in the General election. All of the other candidates were just in the primary. Ad spending will heavily increase for a candidate in the General election.

The article cover spending between May 2018 and July 2019.

Clinton announced On March 4, 2019 that she will not run for president in 2020. (http://westchester.news12.com/story/40067049/im-not-running-...)

The article is not about last the election cycle 3-5 years ago.

Fair enough - I scrolled over the dates. That doesn’t dismiss the fact that you have a national party backing compared to individuals. In which case democrats are heavily outspending republicans.

"One area of particular relevance and interest is the US 2020 Presidential campaign."

This is for next election, not the past one, and it looks like Clinton is not involved this time (no idea if it's the case, but I assume she would appear in the article else)

There were at least 4 candidates on my ballot in the election.

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