With the final results of the Ontario election behind us, our digital strategy and opinion research teams are looking back on the past month’s activities to see what can be learned from political parties’ approaches to engaging the electorate.
Many pundits and political commentators were quick to point out how “sleepy” this campaign was and waiting for their social feeds to be inundated with political advertising that never came. This was largely mirrored on the social media scene, with 6 in 101 Ontarians saying they never saw, engaged with or shared a social media post by a campaign. This is a problem. Considering over three-quarters (78%)2 of Canadians who use the internet regularly use social media and 53%3 of Canadians consume their news on social media, this channel offers a great opportunity to educate, move people to think and then hopefully act – or in this case, VOTE.
Ontario recently changed its political advertising rules, which meant that this Ontario election was unique with higher advertising spends in a much tighter window, leading to high rotation and message concentration for those who could afford it – but while you try and count how many times you heard the PC government’s “Get It Done!” jingle over the last 28 days (a lot) also ask yourself, was there any killer creative that really stood out from any of the parties? The answer is, probably not.
Another result of the changes to the province’s political advertising laws was the lack of third-party ads this election – a feature in past campaigns and often dog incumbent governments. The lack of a strong, third party, presence helped create an environment where the political discourse could be perceived as just “politicians fighting” (parties advertising against one another, with some forward-looking offers) which for many is easy to tune out, rather than raising the stakes of the debate and connecting it to real outcomes for folks like, teachers, nurses, LTC workers and union members to name a few.
While the political discourse may have been underwhelming, the parties’ ad spends were not. With hundreds of thousands of dollars funneled toward TV and Social between the three major parties, more than half (55%) of those surveyed recall specific partisan ads on TV, significantly higher than the 29% who recall seeing a social media ad for a specific party.4
Investment in TV advertising, while dropping in emphasis for political parties at all levels, remains a tried-and-true way to reach a large group of constituents when done at the right time and properly targeted, but it comes with a hefty price tag and no analytics.
Despite significantly lower recall, social media still rules across all parties. So, it begs the question this time around – what gives? Why were so few connecting with social media ads?
Our team would argue that breaking through on these platforms is much harder than occupying the full screen during the hockey game. Your ads are held to a different standard on social media before people start to let your message in. It’s a high standard, particularly for creativity and repetition.
Political parties, along with other advocacy organizations and interest groups, must aim for social media campaigns that achieve a high frequency and standout, killer content. The same ad you run on TV, must be reimagined for your online audiences. Your social media campaigns must be bespoke in their design for each audience, each platform and even each week of the campaign.
The good news is – social media grants its advertisers a level of agility and targeting that is unmatched by other advertising channels. All political parties, organizations and from time-to-time individuals are consistently seeking out the right formula for their unique needs, and it seems that after the Ontario election a lot of parties still have some work to do strengthening their social media game.
Research sponsored by Earnscliffe Strategies and conducted by Leger using a random sampling of panelists from Leger’s proprietary online panel. The survey was conducted with 1,000 individuals from Ontario between May 20 to 22, 2022. The data was weighted to be reflective of the Ontario population by age, region, sex, education and children under 18 in the household based on Census data. Since this survey was conducted using an online panel, no margin of error may be calculated.
 Statistica Canada. 2021. Canadians’ assessment of social media in their lives. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/36-28-0001/2021003/article/00004-eng.htm.
 Reuters Institute Digital News Report, 2020, https://www.digitalnewsreport.org/survey/2020/overview-key-findings-2020/
 This survey was sponsored by Earnscliffe Strategies and conducted by Leger using a random sampling of panelists from Leger’s proprietary online panel. The survey was conducted with 1,000 individuals from Ontario between May 27 to 29, 2022. The data was weighted to be reflective of the Ontario population by age, region, sex, education and children under 18 in the household based on Census data. Since this survey was conducted using an online panel, no margin of error may be calculated.
Earnscliffe follows the CRIC Public Opinion Research Standards and Disclosure Requirements that can be found here: https://canadianresearchinsightscouncil.ca/standards/