Written as editor of the New Statesman’s NS Tech and first published here.
We all know what happens when those in politics start handing over money for promotions on Facebook: remember David Cameron paying for ‘likes’ to the tune of £100,000 a month?
Well, had Cameron and Co been a bit smarter, they could have shielded themselves (slightly) if they’d opted to make use of the platform’s third-party, in-app advertising campaigns.
This is where Facebook advertisers can buy slots within participating but unaffiliated apps, rather than going balls out with the begging bowl directly on Facebook.
That’s almost exactly, it appears, what our friends over at Vote Leave have chosen to do in the ad campaign below. They aren’t asking for ‘likes’, but they are looking for engagement.
But, looking at just one of its ads, the content strays pretty far into the ‘misleading’ advertising category.
The above ads says: “Turkey, Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro are joining the EU”. Which is not, in fact, true.
On this ‘piece of information’ you are then asked: “will this hurt the EU?”.
Whether you agree or you disagree, the conversation continues. But if it’s a thumbs down, you get another piece of information, and the option to learn even more…
If you click to find out, you’re sent to the official EU out campaign – Vote Leave’s website.
You can easily find out where the ad has come from and it turns out this has been served by the Facebook Audience Network, where advertisers can buy ‘targeted’ ads in non-Facebook apps.
The assumption it seems, based on the fact that this app is a quiz app about musicals, is that people who like musicals enough to play musicals-based mobile games are a moveable audience on the EU.
There isn’t a lot of up-to-date data on who plays mobile games, but it was certainly an awful lot of people back in 2012 when the Internet Advertising Bureau conducted its ‘Gaming Britain’ research. Back then, the figure was almost 33m people in the UK, both men and women, young and old.
NS Tech contacted the makers of the game, QuizTix, who said this particular app skews slightly older and slightly more towards women than some of its others.
The spokesperson said that he was not aware ads like this were running on the game, but explained: “Ads from networks like Facebook’s happen in a ‘live’ way so it’s hard to police, you have to have trust in the system.”
We’ve also contacted Vote Leave about their ad, and Facebook about their political ads policy, which basically only seems to prevent you from asking people how they vote, but have not yet had a response.
Just today, the Advertising Standards Authority published a blog post explaining exactly why it is not the arbiter of political ad campaigns.
In fact, according to the ASA, no one is. So if you’ve got a complaint, good luck!
H/t @technokitten for spotting the campaign.