The AdLens report on political ads on Facebook, March 2021

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This data is taken from the Facebook political ad library. Ads costing less than €100 were counted at an average of €50. In this report, you will find data from 1 to 28 February 2021. All data is collected and archived by us, please contact us for more info: adlens.be@gmail.com

Analysis of Belgian political parties’ advertising

Parties spent €420,583 in March.

N-VA

145,502 (-€46,224 compared to February). From January to March 2021, the N-VA spent €500,276 on Facebook ads.

Vlaams Belang

90,877 (-€28,644 compared to February). From January to March 2021, Vlaams Belang spent €335,921 on Facebook ads.

PVDA

49,838 (+1,708 € compared to February including PVDA and Redfox België). From January to March 2021, PVDA spent €156,225 on Facebook ads.

Vooruit

34,825 (+€13,600 compared to February). It should be noted that the s.pa officially became the Vooruit on Sunday 21st of March. The advertising around the party’s name change alone explains this increase. From January to March 2021, the Vooruit / s.pa spent €72,646 on Facebook ads.

Open Vld

27,723 (+€5,858 compared to February). From January to March 2021, the Open VLD spent €66,824 on Facebook ads.

Groen

20,320 (-€14,837 compared to February). From January to March 2021, Groen spent €72,953 on Facebook ads.

CD&V

16,609 (+€2,213 compared to February). From January to March 2021, CD&V spent €46,244 on Facebook ads.

MR

10,933 (-€806 compared to February). From January to March 2021, the MR spent €38,048 on Facebook ads.

PTB

10,755 (+ €2,760 compared to February including PTB, Comac and RedfoxFR). From January to March 2021, the PTB spent €41,977 on Facebook ads.

CDH

7,224 (- €1,220 compared to February). From January to March 2021, the CDH spent €22,383 on Facebook ads.

Ecolo

2,454 (+€488 compared to February). From January to March 2021, Ecolo spent €5,885 on Facebook ads.

DEFI

1,678 (+659 € compared to February). From January to March 2021, Défi spent €4,079 on Facebook ads.

PS

1,479 (+€594 compared to February). From January to March 2021, PS spent €3,969 on Facebook ads.

ProDG

366 (+€304 compared to February).

Conclusion : The amounts invested by the N-VA and Vlaams Belang decreased significantly, even though March was 3 days longer than February.

The PVDA remains in third place. Vooruit increased its spending significantly and is in fourth place in March, while Groen decreased its spending significantly and falls to second last place on the Flemish side.

It is worth noting that the MR, the French-speaking party that invests the most (although the PTB came very close in March), decreased its spending again.

Analysis of the most highlighted political figures

Bart De Wever (N-VA) with his 23 advertisements for a total of €37,777

Peter Mertens (PVDA) with 66 advertisements for a total of €13,893

Conner Rousseau (Vooruit) with his 32 advertisements for a total of € 13,315

Tom Van Grieken (Vlaams Belang) with his 13 ads for a total of € 10,838

Jan Jambon (N-VA) with his 9 ads for a total of € 10,303

Zuhal Demir (N-VA) with his 16 ads for a total of € 9,039

Georges-Louis Bouchez (MR) with his 15 ads for a total of €9,000

We can see that the figures most prominently featured remain the presidents of the various parties.

Individual ads most spent

Analysis of political advertisements in European countries

In March, €593,177 (-€69,096 compared to February) was spent on political ads on Facebook in Belgium. In the first three months of 2021, €1,821,997 was spent on political ads on Facebook. Belgium is the seventh largest European country to spend on this social network (it was eighth last month).

Note that by political, Facebook means ads for candidates for public office, as well as ads about an election, a voting initiative or a social issue. NGOs and some media can therefore be counted as political.

In terms of expenditure per capita, Belgium is in sixth place just behind the United Kingdom. The Netherlands is in first place. It should be noted that elections are being held from 15 to 17 March 2021 in The Netherlands.

Analysis of the share of genuinely political advertisements

As we noted in our previous report, the European figures are probably to be put into perspective compared to what is done in Belgium. In our country, the proportion of really political ads is very high. As you can see in the graph above, Belgium and The Netherlands have a very close split between really political and non-political ads (from NGOs, etc.). However, as we have pointed out, The Netherlands was in an election period in March. In the aftermath of the elections, Dutch spending on political advertising drops, and the difference between Belgium and its northern neighbour becomes clear again. The graph below illustrates the period after the elections.

The case of the Netherlands: the final sprint

As mentioned above, the Dutch elections were held between 15 and 17 March. In the days leading up to the elections, parties invested heavily in Facebook. Indeed, as the graph below shows, the beginning of March was characterized by spending equivalent to €100,000 for all actors. The trend gradually accelerated to reach a peak on 16 March, when €306,404 was spent in one day, only to drop drastically on 18 March, the day after the elections. By then, the various actors were investing only one tenth of what had been spent on 16 March.

In the graph above, the category “pol + non-pol” includes the different actors while the category “political parties” includes only the different parties.

AdLens is a team of activists, journalists, researchers, data analysts. We work together for more transparency of political ads on Facebook.