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BizReport : Advertising archives : May 21, 2018

What Google's changes to political advertising rules mean for businesses

With Primary season in full swing in the US, many brands are noticing some changes to the rules surrounding political advertising. Google has rolled out changes into how they verify political advertisers, in the hopes that the new transparency will help to repair consumers' trust. We asked a digital expert how these changes will impact businesses.

by Kristina Knight

Kristina: In your opinion, are these changes coming at this time because Google is bowing to public pressure/feeling?

Ray Kingman, CEO, Semcasting: Google doesn't want a repeat of the 2016 election chaos.

The near identical response from Google and Facebook, both in structure and tone, on a candidate's "registration requirements," suggests that neither is able to find any leverage on this subject. If no policy changes were to be made by the company, there is the larger risk that public sentiment might have led to regulatory action. Google does not want a scandal similar to Cambridge Analytica, but their minimalist response, suggests they believe that there is little leverage to be gained by offering up a more aggressive policy position.

The EU and other countries already prohibit "paid for" political broadcast ads in the fear of big money buying public opinion. No one is advocating that this same broadcast standard be applied to online ads in the U.S., however, had the Google and Facebook policy on both candidate and issues ads included registration and transparency requirements, it might have been read as a more meaningful, response to bad actors everywhere.

Kristina: What do these changes entail?

Ray: Google's new policy has a relatively simple framework. These registration and transparency requirements for candidates seems like they are leaning toward adopting a broadcast standard as a default holding action while this is all sorted out. Any candidate ad must link to a "paid for" disclaimer within the content, and organizations or individuals advertising in federal elections must be disclosed.

Kristina: What challenges for the political ad space will this bring up? What about for the ad landscape, as a whole?

Ray: The policies for political and issue ads on Google and Facebook that will take place after midterms will be interesting to see. The problem is defining what an issue ad is. Is it based on self-identification by the advertiser or by some new set of monitors at Facebook and Google? Do the monitors risk a perceived bias - like MSNBC or Fox? According to current FEC rules, large donors to PACs do not necessarily have to identify themselves unless the donor directs the money to a specific ad. How does that scenario play through the issue of transparency within the ads that the PAC may run online?

Also, on a more technical side, there hasn't been clarification as to who will be disclosed as paying for an ad. In politics that honor has fallen to the campaign, candidate committee or 501(c)(3)/(c)(4). However, since Google mentions the disclosure being tied to an AdWords account as an example, that would tie Semcasting to the purchase, not the end buyer.

Kristina: How will this change the digital ad landscape?

Ray: I believe that in the current climate and for the custody of ad content, the impact will be minimal. Political agencies already execute similar disclosures for television and radio - and they already report and account for spending by tactics for a candidate. For the legitimate candidate advertising, I don't see any impact whatsoever.

The interesting behaviors will take place around issue advertising and what rules come up around who owns the messaging and the transparency to that ownership.

Tags: advertising, advertising regulation, Google, political advertising, Semcasting

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