21 Oct 2023

The campaign for social media supremacy in Election 2023: Who the parties targeted and their key messages

6:00 am on 21 October 2023

During the election campaign, millions of dollars were spent by all of the main political parties promoting their plans on Facebook, Instagram, Google and YouTube. Almost none of it went on ads about climate change.

The Greens were the only one of the five parties elected to Parliament that put money behind climate ads on the major online platforms, and ACT was the only party to spend on ads about co-governance.

Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, publishes data about political advertising on its platforms. Google, the dominant search engine and owner of YouTube, does too.

An RNZ analysis examined three months of data leading up to the election. This is part two of a series explaining what we found. You can read part one here.

What they were saying

Combined, National, Labour, ACT, the Greens, NZ First and Te Pāti Māori spent somewhere between $1.5 and $2.3 million on the Meta and Google platforms in the three month period.

The money was not spent evenly across all of the material the parties published.

Ads about the economy were the top topic for National and Labour. Labour also spent heavily on health advertising, much of that on its promise for free basic dental for under 30s. National and ACT spent on messages about crime.

Generic ads were ads which were about voting, or reading party policies.

ACT was the only party with ads which had text relating to co-governance, and the Greens were the only party to put money towards ads about climate change.

Labour's attack ads on Luxon

Labour pulled out attack ads in the final campaign push, with many highlighting National's leader, Christopher Luxon. A series of ads highlighted "one thing you need to know before you vote". Each ad then listed a policy, or something Luxon had said. "Christopher Luxon called Kiwis 'wet and whiny'," says one ad. All featured an ominous soundtrack and a photograph of Luxon.

Screenshots from adverts from the New Zealand Labour Party in the lead up to the 2023 election.

Screenshots from adverts from the New Zealand Labour Party in the lead up to the 2023 election. Photo: Screenshot / Facebook

It also ran ads featuring news headlines on how National's proposed tax cuts would benefit landlords, and another which said: "Christopher Luxon gives with one hand and takes with another and you could end up worse off." It tells viewers, "if he wins, you lose".

Who they reached on Facebook

When they pay Meta for Facebook ads, political parties can also ask for them to be targeted at specific sections of society. The publicly available information does not show the targeting, but does show who saw ads, revealing clues about who parties paid to reach.

The Green Party appears to have aimed at women - 81 percent of the views on its ads were from females. ACT, on the other hand, got 61 percent of its ad views from men. The other parties do not appear to have targeted by gender.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, NZ First concentrated efforts on reaching an older audience - the 65-plus bracket was more than double the share of all of the younger age brackets for people who saw its ads.

The parties all had Auckland as the most common location of people viewing their ads. About a third of the population lives in Auckland. Labour, which lost some key Auckland seats on preliminary results, appears to have targeted the city with about 40 percent of its ads seen by Aucklanders. The Greens were not far behind.

What was the vibe?

According to a language sentiment data dictionary, which rates words as either positive, neutral or negative, the text in 20 percent of ACT's Facebook ads used more negative words than positive. National had the highest percentage of ads where the text used more positive words than negative.

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