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A marmite figure? Boris Johnson was used cleverly across the Conservative's targeted advertisements

We all know that Boris Johnson isn’t universally popular. The Conservative Party seems to appreciate this too. In a new batch of targeted Facebook ads the party uses him, and his opposing party leaders, in quite different ways. It’s not just a creative choice. It seems to be the case that whether you see Boris or not depends on where you live, and how likely it was that you voted to leave the EU in 2016.

The use of Johnson and the other candidates for Prime Minister seems to be tied to the seat the Conservatives are advertising in. There are three types of ad seen across both the Conservatives Facebook page and Boris Johnson’s own page. Type 1 is a Boris Johnson-focused advert that also features the opposition (also seen promoted by his page), Type 2 is a Boris Johnson focused advert that features him alone (again, also seen on his page) and finally, Type 3 are ads that show the leaders of the main opposition parties (this time not promoted by his Facebook page).

Image 1 — the three types of adverts seen across Conservative and Boris Johnson’s pages

As Graph 1 shows, the Conservatives are buying targeted advertisements that do not feature Boris in remain-y seats, while leave seats are shown ads featuring him contrasted against the opposition leaders.

Graph 1 — the average vote for leave across where the different types of adverts were sent.

The ads featuring both Johnson and the opposition leaders appear in seats where support for remain and leave was roughly equal, whereas in remain-supporting areas, the Conservatives seem to realise that the Prime Minister potentially turns voters off, and leave him out of their ads.

The political geography of this can be seen in Graphs 2 and 3 that split where the adverts were sent by region. Boris Johnson is generally seen across all regions. However London, South East England, Wales and the East of England find him used less frequently. Given that London elected him Mayor twice, it’s perhaps surprising to find that the Conservatives don’t consider Johnson an electoral asset in the city.

Graph 2 — Use of Boris Johnson across the 91 adverts by region

Graph 3 — Use of opposition leaders across 91 adverts by region

The ads that feature the opposition leaders follow a different trend. In the Labour-held target seats where the Conservatives hope to win, the party are less likely to use images of Corbyn, Sturgeon and Swinson as a counterpoint to the PM. It may be that the fear of Corybn the Conservatives are trying to persuade people of goes down less well in seats where there is a strong historic and emotional connection to Labour, whereas this fear may resonate in wealthier areas where voters may be more unenthusiastic about Labour’s spending plans (and possible taxes).

Clicking the ads takes you to different websites. Type 1 and 3 ads lead to more of a ‘moderniser’ type view of the party, whereas Type 2 ads (seen heavily via Boris’ page), lead to a more leader and nation focused landing page featuring a large union jack, with the Prime Minister front and centre.

Image 2 — The links of Types 1 and 3

Overall, the greater use of Johnson correlates to greater support for leave, whereas he all but disappears when the party are trying to defend remain-supporting Tory/Liberal Democrat marginals. To us, it’s quite clear therefore that Boris is a marmite politician, that the Conservatives know this, and have adjusted their approach accordingly.


Overall, this is another example of how modern campaigns are tweaked to fit local conditions, with the Conservatives seeking to maximise their impact through selective use of the central figure of their campaign. The party are also careful in how and where they’re attacking their opponents, particularly Jeremy Corbyn, where they might be concerned of going too far, and stirring up loyalty to Labour.

Love him or hate him, Johnson’s Conservatives have a clear plan about whether you should, or shouldn’t see him in this campaign.


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