Summit Snapshot ‘18: Taking Transparency to Digital Political Advertising

July 12, 2018

Big Idea: DAA now provides guidance on application of its Principles to digital political ads. A new working group to devise creative guidelines for the PoliticalAd icon and marker is under way. A Summit18 panel explored developments.

It’s been a little over a month since the Digital Advertising Alliance announced the adaptation of DAA Principles for transparency and accountability to online political advertising, specifically for candidate “express advocacy” ads.  In that time, we published a consumer-facing Web site, and we’re about to embark on a working group to devise creative specifications for the display of the PoliticalAd icon  and corresponding ad marker.

During DAA Summit18 ADapt!, we had our first opportunity to discuss publicly with program participants this important application of DAA Principles during a panel discussion moderated by Dick O’Brien, executive vice president, government relations, 4A’s.

Blog - DAA Summit18 - PoliticalAd Panel - Photo 1

DAA Summit18 panel identifies how AboutPoliticalAds program will be implemented. Left to right:  Dick O’Brien, Executive Vice President, Government Relations, 4A’s (moderator); Mark Jablonowski, Managing Partner & Chief Technology Officer, DSPolitical; DAA Counsel Michael Signorelli, Partner, Venable LLP; and Brad Weltman, Vice President of Public Policy, IAB [Interactive Advertising Bureau].

“The DAA ‘AdChoices’ program provides a fantastic model – a successful model – about how to provide disclaimers and disclosures,” said panelist and DAA counsel Michael Signorelli, partner, Venable LLP. “Built on transparency and accountability, it seemed to us to be a very easy lift… with an infrastructure in place and a marketplace that is the backbone of servicing the [online] ad marketplace. Certainly, there are more specialized service providers in the political space, but many of our existing participants were already engaged in providing audience and segment services for digital advertising focusing on political speech.  So beginning last fall, we brought together stakeholders in this space … and it became pretty clear to everyone that the right way to approach this is to place the transparency requirement on the political advertiser. Given the programmatic space, it would be a challenge to ask this of publishers -- to be able to collect all of the information like a broadcaster would do. And so we’re putting the notice obligations on the advertiser to say ‘I’m a political advertiser and this is my ad, marked as so, and I will deliver the notice.’

“So the notice requirements are two-fold,” Signorelli continued, “enhanced notice through an icon – like the YourAdChoices blue icon except that it’s purple and says “Political Ad” and it will link to a notice – through an interstitial or website – that will identify who the political advertiser is, with contact information for that political advertiser, any disclaimers required by law such as ‘paid for’ information, and there will be links, provided in that notice provided by the political advertiser, to a database where they’ve registered for the contributions and expenditures.”

Blog - DAA Summit18 - PoliticalAd Panel - Photo 2 - PoliticalAd Marker + IconImage: During Summer 2018, DAA has organized a working group to devise creative implementation guidelines for the new PolticalAd icon and marker.

Signorelli went on to say that the PoliticalAd icon and program is like YourAdChoices in how they serve to provide enhanced notice – but is different in that they focus on ad content and disclosures, rather than the responsible collection of data, which is the concern of YourAdChoices.  YourAdChoices also provides control – which is not a stricture of political free speech.

Transparency Wins Elections, Too

There can be no doubt that transparency – as to a political advertiser’s name, contact information, access to contribution or expenditure records (when applicable), individual contacts, and other required disclosures – in political ads is highly desirable in any free and fair election.  To extend such transparency to digital political ads for most statewide and federal offices through the PoliticalAd icon, similar to the recognition, efficacy and enhanced notice of the well-established YourAdChoices icon, we believe is an important step forward.

“[Political Ads] is a place where, one more time, DAA could step up and really do a powerful contribution to what we do for a living and also what we do for the country,” said Dick O’Brien, executive vice president, government relations, 4A’s, who moderated the panel. “DAA is very good at being able to communicate with the public – at being transparent – in who’s bringing you this ad [on a browser or device], why they’re bringing it to you, and giving you ‘real-person’ information on how to contact the person who’s placing it.”

PoliticalAd Icon – ‘A Line Extension to a Brand’

“Last fall, we went up to Congress and said this is an issue where we wholly agree, the importance of transparency and notice,” said Brad Weltman, Vice President of Public Policy, IAB [Interactive Advertising Bureau]. “These are all things that consumers, and voters in particular, need. That’s the overlap with interest-based advertising that we talk about all the time – and that has been the beauty of the [YourAdChoices] icon.  The challenge of giving voters transparency in elections stems from the same place.  When a consumer looks at a political ad, they need and deserve the right to learn more.  The DAA self-regulatory program has evolved in amazing ways in its short history, and this [the PoliticalAd icon and program] is just another version of that. It’s like a line extension to a brand.”

Blog - DAA Summit18 - PoliticalAd Panel - Photo 3

Left to Right: Panelists Mark Jablonowski, Managing Partner & Chief Technology Officer, DSPolitical; DAA Counsel Michael Signorelli, Partner, Venable LLP; and Brad Weltman, Vice President of Public Policy, IAB [Interactive Advertising Bureau] discuss new DAA PoliticalAd icon and program at DAA Summit18.

”If the purple icon marking a political ad were to become a sort of consumer seal [similar to YourAdChoices] that would be wonderful,” Weltman said, noting that Members of Congress have been considering legislation (the Honest Ads Act) that might more flexibly and nimbly be addressed through DAA self-regulation. “Thus, this self-regulatory program achieves most of the objectives – if not more – than that of the legislation.”

Having support from political ad platforms is also vital to this effort – as we seek to reach the diverse players and facilitators who bring political ads to the digital and mobile marketplace.

“This is an important first step to move the industry forward so we can police the advertising space,” said Mark Jablonowski, managing partner and chief technology officer at DSPolitical. “With the 2016 election we saw an enormous amount of unaccountable outside money being spent, and in response, we’ve seen legislation being drafted that could have very different capabilities to achieve the desired outcome of increased transparency. We’re looking at ways as an industry we can come together and have a cohesive pattern of disclosure that can be applied across all digital advertising.”

Jablonowski reported that at least eight different states have come forward with regulatory or legislative initiatives for digital disclosure guidelines that collectively create a piecemeal approach for looking up political spending. “Having a single source that regulators can go to for the data they need is incredibly important if we are to have any hope of making certain political advertising can continue in the programmatic space,” he said. “I think people understand this is a complicated problem. That’s why it needs a thoughtful solution. Publishers simply don’t have the information many of these regulators want – advertisers do, which is why they are essential to the disclosure process if we are to have any hope of developing a system the public can trust. Industry should be working with the FEC to get this done and enforce it so we don’t have digital political ads that lack disclosure or the icon.”

 “We’re not done, and this is the right first step,” Signorelli said. “Disclosure databases [and] issue advocacy are concerns we may address after we’ve seen our experience with express advocacy self-regulation.”

There will be more to share here in coming months – and given the level of interest expressed by Summit participants during the Q&A – we know this transparency, and new accountability by our independent enforcement partners, will be welcomed.

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