Federal Election Commission Gives U.S. Digital Political Ad Transparency – and DAA Political Ads Program – an ‘Iconic’ Boost

Big Idea: A recent U.S. FEC position on digital and mobile political ad transparency makes room for icon-driven disclosures. With Election Cycle 2024 underway, it's time for DSPs to test and integrate with the DAA Political Ads icon-delivery platform.

Election 2024 may still be a year-plus away – but campaigns are already starting. DSPs [demand-side platforms] need to take immediate note.

Political ad transparency is in the spotlight now, thanks in part to a Federal Election Commission Final Rule for Internet Communications that enables digital political advertising to carry an “adapted disclaimer” to convey required “Paid for by” disclosures in campaign advertising for federal elections. The Final Rule took effect March 1, 2023.

This is a game changer for DAA and its Application of the Self-Regulatory Principles of Transparency & Accountability to Political Advertising, first enacted in 2018 with enforcement effect in 2020. The FEC has specifically noted that an icon-based approach can be a suitable means to deliver disclosures where time and space are limited. Thus, digital political advertising is recognized as distinct from its print and broadcast counterparts.

Image 1. New FEC rules enable an icon-based indicator and "adapted disclaimer" much as those evident through the DAA Political Ads icon-serving platform. Several programmatic DSPs also enable DAA Political Ad Principles adherence. The new FEC rules also specify "Paid for by [Organization]" which may act as an acceptable text marker as an alternative to "Political Ad."

The rule also takes an expansive view of digital-based political advertising:

“The new definition of ‘public communication’ includes ‘communications placed for a fee on another person's website, digital device, application, or advertising platform.’ This new definition implements the Commission's goals of including the range of current internet media and being adaptable to the development of future technologies. It also reflects the Commission's determination that—for purposes of the definition of ‘public communication’—there is no basis to distinguish between paid advertising on a ‘website’ and paid advertising via other internet-enabled technologies.”

Adapted Disclaimers Can Be Icon-Based (read, DAA Political Ads Icon)

While virtually all political ads – no matter what the medium – must convey “paid for by” disclosures, the FEC has noted that “adapted disclaimers” can apply to internet-enabled ads, in display, mobile, video, audio or other (and future) digital-enabled formats. The language adopted by the FEC mirrors the attributes of the DAA Political Ads application – and the voter-facing user experience as a result.

Consider these further FEC statements:

“Adapted disclaimer means a clear statement that the internet public communication is paid for, and that identifies the person or persons who paid for the internet public communication using their full name or a commonly understood abbreviation or acronym by which the person or persons are known, which is accompanied by: an indicator and a mechanism.  …When a [required] disclaimer cannot be provided or would occupy more than 25 percent of the communication due to character or space constraints intrinsic to the advertising product or medium, an adapted disclaimer may be used within the communication instead.”

“Indicator means any visible or audible element associated with an internet public communication that is presented in a clear and conspicuous manner and gives notice to persons reading, observing, or listening to the internet public communication that they may read, observe, or listen to a disclaimer satisfying the requirements… through a mechanism. An indicator may take any form including, but not limited to, words, images, sounds, symbols, and icons.”

“Mechanism means any use of technology that enables the person reading, observing, or listening to an internet public communication to read, observe, or listen to a disclaimer satisfying the [disclosure] requirements… after no more than one action by the recipient of the internet public communication. A mechanism may take any form including, but not limited to, hover-over text, pop-up screens, scrolling text, rotating panels, and hyperlinks to a landing page.”

There you have it. An adapted disclaimer may include “Paid for by,” with either the full name or “clearly recognized” acronym of the paying entity (such as a campaign or political action committee, or other ad-financing organization), an icon – such as the Political Ad icon of DAA [ ], and an interactive element that provides the full extent of transparency disclosures, which are already built into the DAA Political Ad transparency requirements.

Image 2. FEC guidance on “adapted disclaimers” provide for a new text indicator to accompany the Political Ad icon, “Paid for By” which also should include the name or commonly recognized acronym of the organization or entity paying for the ad.

As a result of the FEC decision, the DAA’s Political Ad Icon and Marker Creative Guidelines, will now be updated to reflect “Paid for by” (and its Spanish equivalent) as an acceptable ad marker text, alongside our icon, when accompanied by the name or recognizable acronym of the advertiser.

There’s also one more twist, which is exciting for the increasing volume of digital video ads – though not without technical challenge:

 “The new provision… requires that for an internet public communication in which the disclaimer is displayed within a video, the disclaimer must be visible for at least 4 seconds and appear without the recipient of the communication taking any action.”

When a political ad is directly sold to a publisher and posted to a site, it may be easier to render such a 4-second provision of an adapted disclaimer, that otherwise disappears elsewhere during the course as the video ad plays on.  In a programmatic setting, where the ad is served to a site or app via a programmatic partner, it is incumbent that the latest VAST standard (beyond 3.0) is fully embraced and supported – including JAVA enablement – so that a dynamic view of the icon, ad marker and interactive adaptive disclosure, can be displayed as a video ad plays.  When a video ad is static – before or after it is played or paused – there, too, might be an opportunity to display a DAA Political Ad icon and marker. 

For video ads, DAA may advise that a Political Ad icon might always be visible on a video ad – whether or not the expanded “Paid for by” disclosure is visible for four seconds -- except when technically not possible due to older VAST implementations. Additionally, as we move into streaming and Connected Devices guidance as expected later this year, it is highly likely that the use of QR codes may be needed to offer up required disclosures to voters.  We will have a working group shortly that will focus on finalizing such details.

Call for DSPs and Testing: DAA’s Political Ad Icon, Platform for Icon Delivery and Political Ad Registry – We Have an API for That

The FEC adapted disclaimers accommodation is an important development which recognizes the unique challenges and opportunities inherent in digital “public communications” and online campaign advertising specifically. The newly expanded DAA Political Ads program and platform supports both express advocacy ads (as required by DAA and Digital Advertising Alliance of Canada) and issue-based ads (elective by DAA and required by DAAC). We are enhancing the platform to enable FEC adherence fully, as well as a new Political Ads registry component (required by some states, as well as Canada), and will have this ready for the imminent 2024 Election cycle.

Contact DAA presently to have your product team test our Political Ad APIs (info@aboutads.info). Election 2024 will be in full force shortly – we can get you ready to meet your transparency and registry requirements.

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