Conservatives welcomed Boris Johnson into Downing Street by flooding Facebook and Instagram with ads pushing the new prime minister’s message.
In the days since Mr Johnson was selected as Tory leader, hundreds of ads have appeared on the social networks, repeating his promise “to deliver Brexit by the 31 October”.
According to Facebook’s ad library, which collects all political ads on Facebook and Instagram, the Conservative Party ran 280 ads on Boris’s first full day.
On Wednesday, it was running around 544.
The ads are frequently identical, with just a few tiny variations. Two versions of one video ad, calling on people to “join now and build the movement” differ only in the colours they use.
One features a large splash of the exact red used by the Labour Party. The other has the shade of turquoise associated with the Brexit Party.
Other variations include changing the position of a photo, or altering the text to include slightly different messages.
“You’re trying to find which ones work,” says Sam Jeffers, co-founder of Who Targets Me, a non-profit which tracks political advertising on social media.
“If you test tiny variants, then maybe you’ll find a few per cent difference in how those ads are performing.”
The other reason to use multiple variations of ads is to target them specifically at different audiences, a practice known as microtargeting. Using different versions of ads is also a common practice for advertisers running ads across different social networks, or on desktop and mobile.
The ads direct anyone who clicks on them to a page on the Conservative website, with a survey asking: “What’s the most important issue for you and your family right now?”
In order to complete the survey, it is necessary to add a name, postcode and email address.
Clicking “submit” sends the data to the Conservative Party and agrees to it “using the information I provide to keep me updated via email, online advertisements and direct mail”.
Does this Facebook push mean we’re heading for an election? Perhaps.
However, when Who Targets Me checked the new ads against the ads it collects with its browser extension, it found they were appearing in safe seats, including Central Devon and South Norfolk – two constituencies where the Conservatives have majorities of over 15,000.
Still, the data will definitely come in handy whenever there is an election.
Not only do the email addresses provide a direct line to each voter, they can also be uploaded to Facebook, along with other data, to create “custom audiences”, which can be used for more accurate targeting.
Even if you don’t enter your information into the survey, you can be targeted with ads.
That’s because custom audiences can be used to create “lookalike audiences” – groups of people deemed by Facebook similar to the people in the first group – thanks to their behaviour online.
The same thing can happen if you visit the website but leave without adding your details.
The page includes re-targeting pixels from Facebook, Google, Twitter and Hubspot. These little bits of code go on to a browser, then tell ad platforms where you’ve been, so they can show you specific ads based on the pages you visited.
Put simply: there’s no escape.
If there is an election, expect to see a lot of political ads following you all around the internet.