Just how big is the digital political advertising marketplace?
According to the ad research group Burrell Associates, digital political advertising is expected to total almost $2 billion by the time the 2018 midterm elections are over, up from just $71 million in 2014. This explosion in growth is no surprise, given the amount of time American voters now spend in front of their laptops, mobile phones, and tablets.
But with this explosion in growth has come the inevitable shadow – with more questions proliferating daily about who’s actually behind some of these ads, this continuously expanding $2 billion industry could come to a wrenching halt if regulators decide to step-in with heavy-handed restrictions. With avoidance of that fate in mind, the advertising industry stepped-up early this year to work on a solution.
In May of this year the 4A’s, working via its Board membership in the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), helped drive a self-regulatory solution to this issue. DAA announced a new industry-wide initiative to increase transparency and accountability around digital political ads (AboutPoliticalAds.org). In the wake of multiple scandals concerning electorate manipulation, the DAA has stepped into the void with a new program aimed at providing the public with real-time transparency as to just who is funding that political ad you’re seeing.
Since 2008, the DAA has been leading efforts in industry best practices and self-regulation. Starting with the Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising, the DAA has since then responded to multiple legislative and regulatory threats by updating its self-regulation and guidance for Multi-Site, Mobile and Cross-Device data. Political Ads is the latest of these five updates. As one of the founding members of the DAA, the 4A’s has worked extensively over the past ten years to ensure that the agency POV is well-represented at the table.
The new framework developed by the DAA requires that political advertisers include an icon/wording around their express advocacy ads. This icon or wording should provide clear, meaningful, and prominent notice that the ad is a political advertisement. It also requires that there be a linked notice that includes: the name of the political advertiser; a telephone number, physical address, web address, or other reliable contact information; any other information required by federal or state law; a link to a relevant government database of contributions and expenditures. If a political advertiser is not required to register with the government, then they must state that in the linked notice.
With the release of the new Guidance in May, the DAA has been hard at work socializing the new program with legislators, regulators and industry. The release obtained positive press coverage in the Wall Street Journal, Campaign & Elections and numerous other high profile outlets. In September, the DAA announced that the Maryland Board of Elections voted to allow covered political entities to use this standard for disclosures mandated by Maryland. Other regulatory bodies around the country have also expressed interest in using the Political Ad program to comply with aspects of their state’s elections law. Also in September, DAA released a creative ad specification for the use of the Political Ad icon.
As the issue of political advertising transparency will likely only heat-up in the years ahead, the DAA’s early work in laying-down a flexible yet innovative framework for political advertising transparency will yield dividends in the years ahead to ensure the continued growth of a robust digital marketplace for political advertising.