Digital Ad Transparency Is Here (Finally), And RALLY Is Ready.

By Sam Read

File it under ‘Better Late Than Never’, but a series of changes are coming soon to the world of digital advertising. As part of their response to public outcry around their role in abetting foreign interference in our 2016 elections, many companies who rely on digital advertisements are in the process of rolling out new policies and procedures for ad transparency.

With legislation like the Honest Ads Act brewing in Congress, this is an attempt for these companies to get out in front of government regulation. Largely due to the fact that they’ve faced the most public and political scrutiny, Facebook is leading the way into this brave new transparent world (along with Instagram, which is owned by Facebook), but platforms like Google and Twitter aren’t far behind. In the rush to respond to public pressure many of the details for these changes are still in flux and subject to change.

In the meantime, we wanted to share what RALLY has been working on so that our clients are prepared to weather the storm and get ahead of some of the expected changes. Here’s what the RALLY digital team has been up to:

Verified Advertisers

As part of their effort to keep foreign interference out of American elections, platforms will start requiring political advertisers to get verified, and prove that they’re legitimate American citizens or lawful residents. Facebook’s policy is already underway, with advertisers having to submit a government-issued ID and get your residence verified to be able to run political ads (who would have predicted I’d be anxiously awaiting snail mail from Facebook this year — 2018 is weird). Facebook’s deadline for advertisers is May 22nd, while Google and Twitter haven’t set a firm timeline for their verifications. RALLY’s digital team has gone through the verification process for Facebook, and will do so when Twitter and Google become available as well.

“Political” designations for ads

To ensure that users know when they’re being served ads that are ‘political’ in nature, platforms will start calling out these ads as such. What that looks like will vary from platform to platform, but here’s what we know so far:

Facebook: Facebook is defining ‘political’ ads as anything that has to do with a candidate, political party, election, ballot initiative, or ‘legislative issue of public importance’. What are legislative issues of public importance? Short answer: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Long answer: Any advocacy around the issues listed here, which include broad categories like ‘education’, ‘poverty’, and ‘economy’. Because Facebook is pretty much building the plane as they fly it in their rush to respond to calls for more transparency, they haven’t offered any clearer guidelines than that, so at RALLY we’re preparing for most of the issues we’re passionate about to fall into these buckets.

Twitter & Google: So far, Twitter and Google have both only pledged to apply the ‘political’ designation to ads that deal specifically with elections, candidates, and voting — although both platforms say they’ll continue to consult with “leaders and experts in the field” to figure out what to do with issue advocacy ads (AKA let Facebook take the lead, and learn from their mistakes).

“Paid For By…”

Any advertisement designated by these platforms as political will soon be accompanied by a tag identifying who is paying for the ad. While this is already an FEC requirement for electioneering ads, Facebook (and potentially the other platforms in the future) will require this information for ‘political’ advocacy ads as well. Because the “paid for by” tag on issue-based ads is a Facebook requirement rather than a strict legal requirement, there’s a little bit of wiggle room around naming the entity who’s actually paying for the ads.

Ad Transparency Centers

For Facebook and Twitter, you’ll soon be able to visit a profile and see an ongoing list of “political” ads that they’ve run, including some general data around how much budget went behind the ads, and demographic data like age, gender, and location of the target audiences.

In addition to that, all three platforms are launching some version of a distinct Ad Archive, specific sites that host searchable databases of all the political advertisements run by various accounts, with the demographic data listed above. Facebook’s archive is scheduled to go live on June 4th, with Google and Twitter promising theirs are coming “soon”.

While it’s hard to imagine an average user diving deep into these archives, we foresee them being a valuable tool for journalists, and even political opponents.

What RALLY is Doing to Prepare

Our digital team is ready and waiting for these new policies to go into place. We’ve gotten verified as advertisers by Facebook and are working individually with clients to make sure any campaign we’re running is in full compliance.

Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google have been up front about their plans for transparency, but we’re also keeping an eye on changes coming to the various display advertisers and DSPs to track any new policies they implement in the coming months.

While definitely creating some additional hoops to jump through in order to reach audiences around the issues we care about, we firmly support these steps towards more transparency in digital advertising. We stand behind the organizations we work with and the causes we fight for, and see the digital advertising we do as a way to connect with those who would fight with us. Bring on the transparency.

P.S. — You can find each company’s own explanation of their new policies here at„ Facebook, „ Twitter & Google.

RALLY is an issue-driven communications firm that takes on sticky political and social problems and finds ways to push them forward. Sam Read is a Digital Account Executive based out of RALLY’s Los Angeles office.