Social Media Political Ads and How They Impact Advertisers & Brands

By Tinuiti Team

The internet is awash with news about political ads and how social media platforms like Google and Facebook are handling them. Opinions on the situation are just as polarizing and divisive as the political parties themselves, especially among politicians who rely on ads like these to communicate with voters. 

But how does this political issue impact advertisers and brands who have no stake in the election game?

Let’s find out!

The overall situation

Political ads are nothing new. Politicians have been using advertisements to promote themselves and their positions since before the advertising industry was even invented. Poltical ads have been placed on billboards, leaflets, TV, radio and newspapers. 

So what is the big deal with political ads on social media?

“Social platforms provide another avenue for political candidates to reach voters that is unlike other mediums. Unlike TV and radio, social channels give candidates more control over who they are targeting and more data behind who is engaging which provides a more direct line of communication with the voting public.”

– Katy Lucey, Director, Paid Social at Tinuiti.
katy lucey


This gives social media lots of potential influence that politicians are only too happy to leverage. Unfortunately, this can also lead to both positive and negative effects on the voting process. 

In Oct 2019, Mark Zuckerberg was questioned at a government hearing over Facebook’s policy on political ads and a politician’s ability to make blatantly false claims on the platform. This scrutiny eventually led Twitter to ban political ads entirely while Facebook stood firm on its own ad policy despite the criticism. 

Social media ads are not small potatoes.

“Democratic candidates spent roughly $32 million on Facebook ads in 2019. For comparison, President Trump’s reelection campaign spent about $21 million. That number will surely increase as we get deeper into primary season and to the general election,” Lucey said.


What does this mean for other advertisers?

Political ads are definitely different from regular business ads (political figures versus products and services). Facebook reports that political ads will only account for 0.5% of revenue this year, so the network anticipates little impact on overall inventory and competition. However, there is still potential for this controversy to have an effect on the rest of the advertising industry.

We are already seeing changes. According to Lucey, CPMs are down (January 2020 vs. January 2019).

What can brands do to prepare for this election period?

According to Lucey, brands must keep an eye on costs throughout the year and anticipate some sort of flux once the general election ramps up.

“Hone in on your target demographic to decrease potential overlap with political ad content,” she recommends.

Make note of any political ads in the market and differentiate your content to ensure your ads stand out in the feed. Not many candidates are using Facebook Stories, so lean more on that type of content. Also, consider investing in other channels where candidates are not likely to invest–channels like Twitter where political ads have been banned entirely. 

Ultimately, remember that no matter how major or minor the impact of such political ads will be, election season only spans a limited period of time. Ride through it as best you can, and when the dust settles, things will return back to normal (from an advertising perspective, at least). 

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