Meta: UK and Scottish governments among political groups to have spent £15m on social media advertising

The Scottish Government alone spent nearly £2.5m on adverts with the technology company

More than £15 million has been spent by political organisations - including the UK and Scottish governments - on Meta advertising since November 2018, a new study has revealed.

The total figure of £15,742,209 means that political organisations are the second biggest spender on advertising on Meta, formerly Facebook, according to research by Sortlist.

The Scottish Government alone has spent nearly £2.5 million on adverts with the technology giant, meaning it takes second place for the ‘companies spending the most on Meta advertising in the UK’.

WWF, a wildlife and conservation charity, is in the lead in terms of spending numbers, while the UK Government, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and Conservative Party come in 7th, 8th, 11th and 14th place respectively.

Both the UK and Scottish governments defended the amount they spent on the social media platforms, telling NationalWorld the advertising was used to communicate important issues to the public - particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.

UK government and political organisations are the second biggest spenders on Meta advertising

Sortlist, (a group of independent marketing and advertising experts), used the Meta Ad Library Report to find the spending totals by specific Facebook Pages between 29 Nov 2018 - 24 Apr 2022.

What were the findings?

The top advertising industry on Meta in the UK is charities, with a collective spend of £19,563,149 since November 2018.

Some of the charities spending the most on Meta advertising include wildlife and conservation charity WWF UK, humanitarian organisation The International Rescue Committee, environmental campaign Greenpeace, and homelessness charity Shelter.

Despite being the highest spending industry on Meta advertising however, charities only displayed 43,931 adverts - which equates to less than half of what UK government and political entities produced (115,027 adverts).

Spending £15,742,209 on advertising puts government and political organisations in second place.

The political ‘companies’ in the top 25 biggest spenders include the Scottish Government, UK Government, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Conservative Party and Brexit Party.

What are the key figures?

  • The devolved government of Scotland spent £2,492,162 on 2,412 adverts
  • The UK Government spent £1,543,751 on 294 adverts
  • The Labour Party spent £1,493,230 on 40,203 adverts
  • The Liberal Democrats spent £1,318,230 on 20,158 adverts
  • The Conservative Party spent £1,081,805 on 21,565 adverts
Sortlist used the Meta Ads Library to find the spending totals by specific Facebook Pages between 29 Nov 2018 - 24 Apr 2022

Organisations combating ‘global matters’ - such as climate change - came in third place, with the vast majority of spend coming from The Climate Pledge and Friends of the Earth.

What have the Governments said?

A Scottish Government spokesperson told NationalWorld: “Effective communication is an essential component of government work, needed to explain policy and provide information to the public about the government and its services.”

The spokesperson explained that during the coronavirus pandemic, advertising was used to “communicate vital public health messages,” “drive vaccination,” and “ensure people receive healthcare in the correct setting”.

They continued: “We use the services of an external media buying agency to research, plan and purchase advertising space across all media platforms.

“Marketing spend, including advertising via Meta, is higher than previous years due to the need for significant investment to provide life-saving COVID-19 public health information which has supported the people of Scotland, businesses and organisations during the pandemic.

“We are committed to openness and transparency and publish details of our marketing spend annually on gov.scot.”

The research was conducted by Sortlist, a group of independent marketing and advertising experts

A UK Government spokesperson told NationalWorld: “We work hard to communicate a large number of important and complex issues effectively to the public, including communications around unprecedented events such as the Covid-19 pandemic and EU transition.

“We select the most effective channels to reach our audiences and keep all our communications under continuous review to ensure value for money.”

The Cabinet Office added that they consistently track and review spending on campaigns “to ensure efficiency and that the appropriate communications strategy is implemented.”

They said: “We do not spend more than we need to for the campaign to be effective.”

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson told NationalWorld: “We use digital advertising to communicate effectively with voters across the country. We run a range of ads across several platforms to promote our policies, recruit new members, and support national campaigns as part of a broader communications strategy.”

NationalWorld also contacted the Labour Party for a comment but had not received one at the time of publication.

How was the research conducted?

Sortlist wrote: “We wanted to find out the biggest advertising companies and industries on Meta, therefore used the Meta Ad Library Report to find the spending totals by specific Facebook Pages between 29 Nov 2018 – 24 Apr 2022.”

The organisation studied the top 50 advertisers in the United Kingdom and the United States.