Quick guide on social media advertising for campaigns and public institutions - european campaign playbook

the european campaign playbook

Quick guide on social media advertising for campaigns and public institutions

by Roberto Tomasi

Social media has democratised advertising. Today, everyone with a social media account and a credit card can reach thousands of people through ads on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter and beyond.

However, not all ads are equal. If you are a grassroot activist raising funds for your organisation, a communication officer promoting a candidate for public office, or a policy expert asking for contributions to a public consultation, it is very likely that social media platforms will reject your ads. This is because political and cause-based ads are special categories that most platforms ban or limit. 

Events like the assault on the US Capitol or attempts by foreign actors to interfere in national elections will continue to push social media platforms towards greater transparency and more election integrity. 

But fear not. In this article, you will learn what political and caused-based ads are and on which platform they are allowed. You will also discover five creative considerations to design effective ads.

Watch the video interview LIVE with the author

(if the video does not appear, please accept all the cookies, or click here.)

Do you prefer to listen to the conversation in our podcast? Click below!

Political and cause-based ads

What constitutes political and cause-based advertising? Each social media platform has its own policy. Here are the definitions for six widely used platforms (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube) and the authorisation requirements.

Political ads

This includes ads that are about:

  • Current or former political leader/party/organisation. For example, the ad aired by Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister and currently MEP, read: “Follow my work as co-chair of the Conference on the Future of Europe” by Guy Verhofstadt (see ad on the left in the image below)
  • Candidate for public office. One clear example is the one run by US President, Joe Biden, reading“Michigan, it’s time to vote Trump out.” By Joe Biden. (see add on the centre in the image below)
  • Election or referendum, like the one that aired in favour of marriage equality during the recent referendum in Switzerland, and that read. “Vote for marriage equality in the referendum” by Ja, ich will.


Cause-based ads

Social media platforms use a broader definition for this type of ad. In essence, these are ads seeking to influence public opinion through discussion, debate, or advocacy for or against important or politically sensitive topics. 

For example, the European Commission recently ran ads to promote a public consultation  (“Have your say on green education”) or to ask people to sign a European Citizen Initiative. 




Platform-by-platform authorisation

The main consideration for campaigners who are looking to run ads are:

  • Only Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube allow political ads while all six of them allow cause-based ads. 
  • With the exception of LinkedIn, all social media platforms require getting an authorisation to run political or cause-based ads. 
  • Platforms have different authorisation processes. Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube ask you to verify your identity and add a disclaimer to the ad stating who is paying for it. Twitter asks you to fill out an online form with contact details and, if you represent an organisation or NGO, a certificate of incorporation or tax registration. To get authorised by TikTok, you need to work with a TikTok Sales Representative.

The table below shows the platforms that  allow political and cause-based ads and if they require authorisation.


5 tips for an effective social media ad

So you decided to run ads, you got authorisedand now what? How should these ads look to be effective? I want to share with you five creative considerations that I took away from a Facebook event for non-profits. Test these creative considerations to find out what works best for your organisation.

1. Visualise the cause

To attract the attention of your audience, clearly show the “why” in your creative assets. 

This is exactly whatBirdLife Europe and Central Asia did in the ad below. They promoted wildlife protection using a powerful image of a turtle trapped in a net.


2. Show the solution and make it tangible

Tell people that the solution is not too far and that they can make a real impact. If your organisation is fighting climate change, you can show people how cycling to work can help reduce their carbon footprint in your ad. In the ad below, World Animal Protection India asks people to eat less meat for the animals, the health, and the planet.



3. Use a clear call-to-action (CTA)

People do not like to be left hanging. Once they consume your ad, nudge them into the desired action. Add a clear CTA to your ad like “Join the event”, “Sign up to our newsletter”, “Take part in the pledge”. The World Food Programme included the CTA “Donate now” in the copy of the ad, the video, the CTA button and the headline.


4. It is not all about you. Make the cause shine

Do not waste ad space to show the logo and name of your organisation. People want to know why they need to act. You can always find a subtle way to make your brand stand out. You could use your brand’s colours for the text and icons or your logo as a transitional element in a video. The WWF ad below is a good example



5. Collaborate with credible and authentic voices

If there are opinion leaders out there that could sound more authentic and credible than your organisation, partner with them. Collaborate with people that share your same values to create social media ads. If you are launching a campaign against malaria, you could team up with a famous sports player who supports your cause. The ad below shows a collaboration between the Greens/European Free Alliance (a political group of the European Parliament) and Carola Rackete (ship captain of Sea Watch - a sea-rescue NGO) to promote an event.


Now that you know what political and cause-based ads are and how to design them to be effective, you should feel more confident in building a social media ad campaign. If this is your first time, start with a small budget, test different strategies (objective, targeting, messages), measure results, and use them to inform your next steps.


Roberto Tomasi is an expert on social media marketing and digital communication for public institutions and private companies, with over seven years of experience. He is a Facebook certified media planner, creative strategist, and community manager.

You May Also Like

Twitch: three reasons to join

Read More

Twitch: three reasons to join

The cause needs to come first

Read More

The cause needs to come first

3 lessons on running creative campaigns

by Pablo Pérez Above all else, creativity is about perspective. A way of looking, thinking, l...

Read More

3 lessons on running creative campaigns