on the home stretch, advertising budgets on social networks soar

The amounts spent on Google ads for the campaign of Joe Biden (left) and Donald Trump (right) since the spring.

Several million dollars a day, for Joe Biden as for Donald Trump: during the home stretch of the US presidential campaign on November 3, the candidates spend almost without counting, to spray targeted advertising, on social networks, voters undecided or hesitant to vote.

The practice is not new; since Google, Facebook and other companies have made it possible to target voters more or less precisely, the American campaigns have made extensive use of their tools – in a way that would be illegal in France as in almost all European countries. In particular because, unlike television advertisements, which are useful for reaching a large audience, those of social networks make it possible to target specific demographics very directly, and therefore to adapt the message. The Biden campaign thus disseminated several advertisements aimed specifically at women, or messages in Spanish intended for the Latino community; Donald Trump posted ads to Florida retirees claiming Joe Biden would raise their taxes.

Less official political ads

Basically, the overwhelming majority of these advertisements are not very original, and play on the classic campaign themes of the two candidates. “This year’s ads aren’t very memorable – maybe because they mirror the candidates they’re trying to promote.”, summarizes it Los Angeles Times.

“Most of Trump’s commercials are frantic, angry and negative (…). Those of Biden are calmer, more coherent, more positive. ”

However, the “official” advertisements of the two campaigns only represent part of the political advertisements disseminated on social networks: large amounts have also been invested online by Super-PACs, these associations authorized, in the United States, to fundraising and delivering advertisements in an opaque manner. America First, a major pro-Trump Super-PAC, has distributed more than $ 7 million worth of ads on Google since the start of the campaign, or 10% of Donald Trump’s official campaign spending; the Biden Victory Fund has spent more than $ 15 million, or almost 20% of the budget of the official campaign of Joe Biden.

A dozen particularly targeted states

The map of states that have received the most targeted advertising in recent months largely matches that of swing states, these states particularly disputed and endowed with a large number of large voters: Arizona, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina. To a lesser extent, other states that could swing one way or the other this year have also been the focus of major online campaigns: Wisconsin, Illinois, Georgia, Minnesota and Ohio.

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However, the map has one major exception: California, a Democratic stronghold, where it is another political battle that has generated major advertising investments. Tuesday, November 3, the inhabitants of the state where most of the new technology companies are located will also vote on “proposal 22”, a popular referendum which must determine whether the employees of the VTC companies (Lyft, Uber, etc.) must be considered as employees or self-employed. The VTC lobby has invested more than $ 200 million in political advertising to prevent drivers using their services from becoming de facto employees.

Block all ads after November 3

More than by the astronomical amounts at stake – more than $ 250 million over the last quarter, according to several concurring estimates – it was above all last-minute hiccups that marked the end of the online campaign. In September, both Facebook and Google announced exceptional limitations on political ads, including banning ads that would declare a successful candidate before the announcement of the final results. Facebook had notably announced that during the last week the candidates and their supporters could no longer broadcast new ads, and should be limited to those that would have been created previously, in the hope of avoiding any instrumentalisation of events that could occur. during the days preceding the vote.

Read also US presidential election: Facebook bans ads that will declare a winning candidate

But the implementation of these limitations encountered several technical problems, with both camps complaining that they had seen perfectly legitimate campaigns automatically deactivated. In a very tense context, while Donald Trump and his supporters accuse Facebook and Google without proof of campaigning for Joe Biden, Facebook had to clarify “That no advertising has been suspended or rejected by an individual, or for political reasons. The problem was technical and generated by an automated system, and advertisements on both sides of the political spectrum were involved ”.

For social networks, perhaps the hardest part is yet to come. Both Google and Facebook announced last week that political ads would be suspended for at least a week after November 3. In the probable case where the final results are not known for several days, or even weeks, due to the delays associated with the processing of postal votes, targeted advertising could constitute a tool of choice for disseminating false information on results or suspicion of fraud. But it is also likely that both camps, and in particular the Republican Party, will use this ban as “proof” of yet another attempt at “censorship”.

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