News circulating this week that Microsoft’s Xandr unit plans to ban political advertisers beginning in October is part of an ongoing reassessment of the ad category, especially for big digital media companies.
Microsoft already began restricting political ads on the Microsoft Advertising Network, effective with a policy update last month, and Big Tech companies including Google and Meta normally place moratoriums during active political cycles.
On the other end of the spectrum – you know, analog media like TV and radio – can’t seem to get enough of it, and based on MediaPost’s last Marketing Politics conference in Washington, D.C. earlier this year, neither can political campaign operatives, who declared broadcast still is their favorite and most dominant ad medium.
As quaint as that may sound, I think it’s because broadcast advertising seems, for the most part, pretty transparent, and doesn’t carry the same potential liabilities for media companies as digital does -- especially now as big advertisers are waking up, rolling up their sleeves and getting into the weeds with log-file data to better understand the publishing sources their consumer advertising ends up on. (Many of those sites tap into mainstream programmatic ad dollars, but publish misinformation and, often, explicit disinformation.)
Following a similar pattern that created a cottage industry for brand-safety companies like DoubleVerify, IAS, and others, the emergence of “made for advertising” sites, AI-generated news sites, and -- how shall I say this -- less-than-transparent disinformation sites, the supply chain is already coming up with solutions, including one announced recently by NewsGuard, as well as one announced this week by TAG (Trustworthy Accountability Group) that utilizes an inclusive strategy reminiscent of Good Housekeeping’s “seal of approval.”
TAG’s new “Certified for Transparency” Seal was actually unveiled last November, but this week TAG announced that ten companies have been certified to brandish it, including:
Integral Ad Science
Omnicom Media Group
“These companies stand at the vanguard of our industry’s efforts to create a more transparent digital advertising supply chain,” TAG CEO Mike Zaneis said in a statement.
So here’s my suggestion: Why not create a “Certified for Political Advertising Transparency” seal that could be used to sanctify the transparency of political advertising sources and campaigns in a similar way?
Frankly, I’m not sure how the program would work technically, but I think there are some very good innovators and developers in the ad-tech industry who could figure that out.
The idea would be similar to TAG’s general “transparency” seal, but given explicitly to political-advertising operatives who meet whatever those minimum technical standards are.
Unlike outright bans on political advertising, a transparency seal would encourage political advertisers to be fully disclosed and would also serve as a public service for voters.
Okay, so call me naive and Pollyanna-ish, but I don’t think political advertising will actually go away.
Even if big tech firms ban or restrict it, operatives will find workaround and other ways of buying, owning or renting media access to get their messaging out there in less-than-transparent ways.
So how about a political ad=transparency seal to encourage good actors to act appropriately and in a fully disclosed way?