Tories splurge £25,000 on microtargeted 'police locator' ads in bid to scoop voters' data

Written by John Johnston on 5 August 2019 in Diary

Conservative Campaign Headquarters have spent an eye-watering £25,000 on Facebook ads targeting people who are afraid of rising crime in their neighbourhoods.

Would you like more police officers working in your area?

Unless you are a drug dealer or a mugger it seems like a pretty easy 'yes'.

But not, seemingly, for Conservative Campaign Headquarters who have already spent £25,270 on a slick Facebook ad campaign to "get your thoughts" about their plans to hire an extra 20,000 police officers.

"More police = less crime," the ad says.

"That's why we're hiring 20,000 new police officers, starting right now.

"Want to see more in your area? Let Boris Johnson know right now."

Interested punters are sent over to a new "police locator" website where they are urged to hand over their personal information, including their full name and postcode, so they can "let Boris Johnson know" that they'd like more bobbies on the beat in their neighbourhood.

Several different variations of the ads have been produced. Some have photographs of the Prime Minister and new Home Secretary Priti Patel shaking hands with police officers. Others have the same image run through an Instagram filter.

Another iteration contains a video from Mr Johnson talking about the policy, while a variety of others include snaps of the new Prime Minister alongside senior cops.

Making subtle differences to the ads, known as A/B testing, allows the party to see which style is best received by different audiences.

And the campaign has already been deployed in over 2,000 different ways, either by varying the ad's content or sending particular versions to micro-targeted groups to monitor the response.

For example, English males aged between 34-45 might be targeted with the video ad, while female pensioners in Wales might get the black and white photo. Party boffins can then crunch the results to see how best to target those groups in the future.

But will the Tories really use voters' enthusiasm for extra policing to guide their deployment strategy?


A quick scan of the party's privacy policy makes it clear what their plan is for the data.

"We collect data with the intention of using it primarily for political activities," the policy says.

"The Conservative Party uses the data that we collect about you in order to build a picture of you and the United Kingdom electorate. We use automated means to analyse this variety of data and collate it (referred to as "profiling")."

This profile can then be used to "select what campaigning material we send to you and which messages [they] put on it."

When asked how the data would be used to inform the new policing policy, a party spokesperson told TotalPolitics: "This is normal practice, and part of ongoing digital activity that CCHQ undertakes throughout the year."

With a potential general election on the horizon, the ad push will provide crucial information to local Tory campaign managers who will know which households in their patch to target with tailored messages about crime and policing.

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