The federal election campaign has not officially started, but the parties are already spending a lot on online advertising


The starter gun hasn’t officially been fired in the 2022 election yet, but make no mistake, the campaign is well underway and your vote is already on target.

As Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese travel the country at an accelerated pace campaigning in marginal seats, online election activity has slowly but surely increased.

And judging by online advertising at this early stage, Australians can expect to see plenty of “attack” ads before they can vote over the next three months.

Advertising data released by Facebook shows that spending on political, social and election ads has increased since August last year and is increasing.

The data includes all advertisements categorized as political or social, including state policy issues and non-profit organizations running advertisements not directly related to the upcoming election.

It’s a more complete picture of advertising on Facebook than we’ve seen in any previous election, after the platform increased transparency with its Ad Library reporting in 2020.

The spending spikes in February and April 2021 were largely due to increased advertising associated with the state elections in Western Australia and Tasmania.

These two events aside, national spending on political issues increased in the second half of 2021, peaking in late November before falling over the calmer Christmas and New Year period, which also coincided with the surge. National Coronavirus Omicron.

But now the year has well and truly begun, and with Omicron no longer dominating the headlines, the amount of campaign money pouring into Facebook’s coffers is growing again.

Who spends what?

Over the past month, the Coalition and its members have spent far more on Facebook advertising than Labour.

The Liberal Party headquarters has focused many of its ads on Anthony Albanese this month, aiming to paint him as a weak and untrustworthy leader and a puppet for the Greens and union bosses.

Examples of Liberal Party attack ads against Anthony Albanese.(ABC News)

On Facebook, rather than spending a lot of money on a single ad, advertisers often run many cheaper ads, tailoring their messages to specific audiences.

About 40 of the Liberal Party of Australia’s ads in the past month have had more than 20,000 views, and about 70% of them were negative labor ads.

The other big-spending campaigner is Climate 200, along with the collection of urban independent candidates supported by the group.

Two examples of Facebook ads featuring two women with brown and blonde hair on a soft green background
Climate 200 paid for similar ads for independent candidates running for multiple seats.(ABC News)

The organization founded by Simon Holmes à Court to fund independent races, Climate 200, ran ads on Facebook supporting at least six candidates running for seats held by the Liberals.

The United Australia Party – founded by Clive Palmer – has spent relatively little on Facebook ads so far this year; its massive budget is invested elsewhere.

UAP dominates online

This election, we also have more details about election advertising on Google-owned websites, including YouTube, thanks to Google’s Transparency Report, which publishes data on political ads.

Google now reports information on a smaller set of ads, but it includes parties and groups explicitly campaigning for candidates.

In the four weeks ending Feb. 13, political activists spent just under $2 million on campaign ads through Google and YouTube.

But 94.8% of this sum came from a single party, the United Australia Party.

Almost half of the remaining spending came from branches of the Liberal and Labor parties in South Australia, where a state election is imminent.

But it’s not just on Google that UAP is spending big.

Estimates from advertising industry tracker Pathmatics suggest the party spends more on online advertising than any other brand in the country, not just those campaigning for public office.

Pathmatics estimated that the United Australia Party ran over $5 million in digital advertising in January.

Foxtel was the second biggest spender, with nearly $4.9 million in advertising to launch its Binge streaming service.

The NSW Government has also spent heavily on digital advertising, much of it coming from NSW Health, linked to the response to the COVID pandemic.

UAP has invested the most money in a video ad in which Clive Palmer criticizes the government’s responses to the pandemic

A screenshot of Clive Palmer in an online video ad for the United Australia Party
A screenshot of the ad the United Australia Party spent the most money on in January, according to Pathmatics estimates.(ABC News)

The data does not include any advertising in traditional media, such as television, radio and print newspapers.

The electoral campaign is already well established

It’s not just the online business that is shifting into high gear.

ABC News has compiled the dates and locations for all media events hosted by Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese since the start of the year, including press conferences and photo opportunities hosted by the executives.

The data shows that both men are already racking up significant mileage.

Mr Albanese began the year with a flurry of travel, visiting the central coast of New South Wales before a tour of the tropics, traveling from the far north Queensland seats of Leichhardt and Kennedy to the central seat of the Hinkler’s Queensland.

There was a pause in visiting fringe seats for the February parliamentary session, but the prime minister is now catching up on frequent flyer miles logged by his opponent.

The day after parliament rose earlier this month, the two leaders flew to the Northern Territory for a series of campaign events around the 80th anniversary commemorations of the bombing of Darwin.

From there, Mr Morrison traveled to Tasmania, via Melbourne, hosting a series of events at key headquarters in Bass, Braddon and Lyon. Mr. Albanese followed the next day.

With the WA border still closed to free quarantine visitors, neither leader has started the election campaign in the west.

But in an election where every seat could count, sandmen should be prepared for visits to begin next month when border rules are relaxed.

And with all that extra election activity, it’s certainly no surprise that reporting on the campaign-that-is-not-quite-a-campaign has also increased.

Data from media monitoring firm Streem shows there has been a steady increase in print and online articles mentioning the upcoming election since the start of the year.

However, people already tired of politics got a little respite last week, when the number of stories mentioning the election dropped for the first time this year.

Don’t expect this reprieve to last long.

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