ust a few months before Facebook ads contributed to the shock election of Donald Trump in 2016 (with a further boost from abroad), they changed the face of British politics too. Brexit was the Brexit referendum was won, as told in great detail by campaign director Dominic Cummings, through the use of targeted Facebook ads in an eerily similar way to Trump’s campaign. Given that he is now Special Advisor to Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, I’m expecting he has helped the government up their game on Facebook ads too.

Looking at the Ad Library Report for the UK we can see they’re dropping £50k a month on ads, but… wait… what is that? Only 4 ads in the library? It’s bizarre to see an advertiser spending £12,000 per ad when all of the others are spending closer to £100 each across hundreds of ad variations. Either Cummings is too busy to help, or they’re doing something interesting and counter to established best practice. Let’s find out!


If you’d like to download all of the ads featured in this post, we’ve made them available in this google drive folder, as part of our Facebook ads library resource. All ad examples come from the Facebook ads library tool.


What did we learn?

I’m astonished to know that the UK Government is spending thousands of pounds on Facebook with only a handful of ads live—competitive political advertisers are testing hundreds of ads with far smaller budgets. Overall the quality of the ads are poor, and that is all the more surprising given that Boris Johnson took over in June. It was Facebook ads that were credited with triggering Brexit, which ultimately became his path into office, so you think they would have done a better job here.


If you’re interested in Facebook ads (if you’re reading this article, I presume you are!) then you might want to take a look at Spotlight. It uses machine learning to see what’s IN your images and text, then automatically show you what’s driving performance.



Are You Ready For Brexit?

When we looked and saw only 4 ads in the Ad Library for such a high volume of spend, we were pretty shocked. It’s common practice to test multiple ad variations, so it’s very unusual to see this from anyone who is a serious Facebook advertiser. Well guess what — it gets worse. There is currently (as of September 10th) only one ad live in the account. That’s right, someone in the UK Government spent 20 grand yesterday on a single ad.

You’re thinking, this must be a pretty good ad if they’re putting all of their eggs in one basket like this? Surely they didn’t sign off this huge budget with just 51 days left to Brexit and hand it to someone who didn’t know what they’re doing? The ad must be fantastic, and they must have tested multiple variations until they found this one that worked…

Well damn. This is pretty bad. This is just a simple animation presumably running on the Facebook / Instagram stories ad unit (‘swipe up’), just telling people to ‘get ready for Brexit’. It leads through to this page which to be fair is a pretty useful resource. Yet when you’re spending thousands of pounds on advertising to promote a divisive and historically important issue, you’d expect something… better? Let’s take a look at the inactive ads and see if they at least tested something else.

“Plan for Brexit. 31 October.”, this copy is just poor, and the video is the same as the active stories ad, just in a different aspect ratio. Typically as an advertiser you’d want to experiment with different types of creative asset, like carousels, lifestyle videos, famous politicians talking… the possibilities are endless. Brexit is the most popular topic in the news cycle right now, so it’s disappointing that with all the source material they could draw from right now, they ended up with this basic animated graphic.

Ok so at least they ran one copy test. It’s not much of a change, but I like this copy more—a lot of people will be confused as to whether Brexit is or isn’t happening on 31 October. The Government seem to be certain it is (which in itself is kind of controversial), but I guess with the immigration status of so many people at risk, you kind of have to be decisive.

Ah, one more video. It’s still the same basic animation, but it doesn’t start with the red arrows, so at least that’s something. That’s it. Honestly this is all that ran in September. I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see it myself.

We Want EU To Stay

Ok so maybe September was a blip and someone up high just forced them to pump all of their budget into that one ad. I get it, sometimes my clients tell me to do irrational things that run counter to best practice, and sometimes given the wider strategic context, they’re right to do so. So I wonder, what did they launch in August before they switched to this ad in September?

Ok wow, just two ads in August, both identical but with the video starting with a different thumbnail. This lack of ad testing has been a problem for a long time it seems. These ads are at least a bit better in terms of production value, and it has a nice message (we want you to stay!) but it is legitimately insane to be spending so much money without more creative variations.

I guess Dominic Cummings really is too busy. I can’t imagine him and his roving band of data scientists allowing this kind of monolithic advertising to go unpunished. What drives performance on Facebook is testing multiple headlines, body test, images, videos, buttons, colors, formats, everything until you find the right combination that works. That just isn’t happening here. They’re running this like a TV campaign—one ad to rule them all.

We Want To Listen To You

I have to keep digging here, surely at some point someone capable was in charge of this Facebook account. So looking back to July… yep just one single ad. This is a much better specimen — it has an eye catching image of a child’s hand, and it’s very clear what the Government is trying to get from its constituents here. They want to know all about parental leave policy and what people think of it, and I think this is a great place to get that feedback at scale versus the limited focus groups approach they usually use.

It’s just a shame that this was the only ad that ran. Even a small business spending £20 a day would be running 2-3 ads to maximize their return on investment, so it’s disheartening this account is being so chronically mismanaged. This is taxpayer’s money they’re wasting afterall! Oh, and no ads ran in June. When was the last time this account was doing a professional job of Facebook advertising? March 2019, i.e. when we had a different Prime Minister in charge.

After reading all about the Brexit campaign and the power of Facebook advertising to drive political issues and even get the most powerful people in the world elected, I never would have predicted that the Government’s Facebook page would actually take a backslide like this. It makes me wonder whether Cummings has another trick up his sleeve—maybe Facebook ads is tapped out now everyone is doing it, and his data science team found a unique way to influence voters on Snapchat or TikTok… I guess we’ll find out in his next Op Ed piece.


If you’d like to download all of the ads in this post, they’re located in this google drive folder for this blog post, in our Facebook ads library, categorized by section. All ad examples come from the Facebook ads library tool.


Now that you’ve finished reading, I’m sure you’ll be inspired to run more tests of your own. When you’re testing at least 3-5 ads per week, you need a tool like Spotlight to help you get insights into the plus or minus factors driving creative performance. 



Sep 5, 2019

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