3 Things You Might Not Know About Political Advertising (but Should)

Stay in the race with these lesser-known rules of campaign ads

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No matter where you live in the U.S., you’re bound to see one thing: political ads.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re a key part of our democratic process and in full swing leading up to the U.S. general election in November. It’s important for politicians, political action committees (PACs) and nonprofits to plan their campaigns early so they can reach as many people as possible during electoral crunch time.

But not every political advertiser is aware of some critical information to make the most of their campaigns.

Follow the rules

Like all ads, political advertising does have to follow some guidelines, but the breadth and depth of those rules might come as a surprise. To start, there are limitations around the allowed formats and even where they can be displayed.

For example, government property cannot be used for partisan messaging, which includes public transit, bus shelters, most street furniture and airports. However, billboards are fair game, as is wild posting, so long as you don’t break any local laws.

Additionally, the Federal Election Committee also has regulations regarding ad discounts and rates. To keep it simple, media vendors are not allowed to offer discounts for political ads to avoid accusations of bias.

So, what about political ad rates? The format of the ad will dictate what advertisers pay: With out-of-home ads, political advertisers pay the published rate card price. With TV and radio ads, you pay the lowest approved public rate for the year. Because of this, media vendors tend to drastically raise prices for everyone, which of course hurts everyone except them.

It’s important to note, too, that ads encouraging people to vote are pretty much always allowed as long as they’re purchased by a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and not by PACs or political candidates.

The medium matters

Marketers, of course, tend to carefully pore over ad messages and graphics in order to create a final product that comes across as trustworthy. But where they choose to display that ad can matter just as much as what’s in it.

Today’s consumers are increasingly distrustful of digital ads, having been aggressively marketed to on social media, in their email inboxes and every other online space for years. And they’ve grown tired of it. As such, political advertisers might want to consider more traditional methods that are associated with greater consumer trust, such as a print advertisement.

Printed ads, such as in newspapers and magazines, or OOH ads, such as billboards or on street furniture and wallscapes, are often perceived to be more credible than digital forms. If you want to put trust back into the equation—which is crucial in political advertising—try these more traditional options.

There are no sure bets

For a long time, TV commercials were political groups’ go-to for reaching voters and getting their messages out. But then consumers started trading linear TV and cable subscriptions for streaming services that may or may not allow advertising, fragmenting audiences and reducing television’s potential impact in one fell swoop.

Now, some streaming services including Hulu are beginning to allow political ads, but there’s been some controversy about potential censorship and other confusion about how consumers will respond to previously ad-free services changing their business model. Meanwhile, the streaming services that do offer advertising have varying guidelines—the ad-supported version of Disney+ reportedly will not allow political advertising.

When finalizing your ad plans for the rest of the election season, be willing to challenge the old methods if they’re not getting the desired results. And be sure to research local laws and prioritize establishing consumer trust. These steps will give you a leg up on optimizing your political ads and ensuring outcomes.