On Wednesday 21st March, The
Drum held a heated debate as part of Advertising Week Europe, on the question:
should UK political ads be better regulated? The panel explored arguments both
for and against the notion of improved regulation.
The IPM held a debate on the same
question in 2016 in The House of Lords following the UK’s referendum on exiting
the EU, featured speakers Lord Black, Lord Saatchi and other notables from the
industry. IPM Board Director and former Chairman, Graham Temple, attended The
The discussions this ongoing argument
raised on Wednesday are highly topical, following the recent Cambridge
Analytica scandal in which unauthorised Facebook data was collected to
manipulate individuals with the aim to influence elections.
The debating panel consisted of:
- James Best, former Adam & Eve Chairman, Chairman of CAP
- David Harris, Executive Creative Director, Gyro
- Graham Temple, Board Director, IPM
- Christie Dennehy-Neil, Senior public policy manager IAB, formerly of the
Will Harris, CMO, former Tory marketer
- Natalie Gross, Partner TH_NK
for better regulation, James Best, highlighted the fact that while the
Electoral Commission has previously shied away from improved political ad
regulation, ‘something must be done.’ Best argued that the sheer power of
advertising means that people must be able to clearly recognise when they are
being advertised to, especially for political purposes.
David Harris building on this, argued
that the reason political advertising is so powerful is because people assume
that it is as well-regulated as general advertising is. People are simply not
aware that they could be potentially deceived by political ads. He argued that
the top brands are successful because they focus a lot of attention on building
consumer trust. As brands themselves, political parties will lose value from repeated
misleading ad ‘incidents’. Moreover, Harris argued that we should shift the
focus away from regulating social media to regulating politicians as they are
the ones with the real power.
Temple also highlighted the underlying issue of implied, but not actual,
political ad regulation. While, within the marketing world, consumers are very
protected from misleading ads, there is, as Temple pointed out, a disconnect
with political advertising where there is significantly less regulation. The
public feel secure that they are well protected from untruthful claims in
general ads – not realising that political ads are a different story. Temple stressed
the importance of transparency, suggesting political ads should include a
mandatory disclaimer along the lines of: ‘This
political ad is funded by the xyz Party. The content and claims that appear
have not been verified by an independent authority as either decent, honest or
a counter to this argument, Christie Dennehy-Neil stated that Political and
marketing ads cannot be treated in the same way. She claimed the ASA model of
regulation would be impractical for political ads purely because it can take a
long time for misleading information to be addressed. Moreover, Dennehy-Neil
indicated that although a political ad may make a claim that is not later
realised – it cannot necessarily be labelled as misleading: there may have been
a lack of funding etc. She also stated that regulation cannot actually stop
politicians saying whatever they chose.
Will Harris argued that regulation of
political ads is impractical. He stated that exploiting weaknesses in the
opponent is all part of being in the ‘real world’ of both marketing and
politicians. Harris also claimed that the public are not so gullible to believe
political ads anyway as nobody trusts what they say.
Viewing regulation as a “lazy
approach,” Natalie Gross stated that politicians lie in all forms of
communications and not solely their ads. Moreover, it is impossible, according
to Gross, to distinguish ads from other forms of communications, making it
implausible to regulate political ads.
Ultimately, the audience were asked to vote FOR or
AGAINST the improvement of political ad regulation.
The results were:
While both sides offer convincing arguments, our
views at the IPM reflect those of the majority audience vote. We believe that
transparency is key and regulation can help ensure this. People should be able
to recognise when they are being advertised to and be able to trust that the
information an ad is presenting to them is not misleading, whether it be a
general or political ad. The regulation of general ads ensures consumer trust
and protection, and so should be sort after and followed by example for other
types of advertising, namely, political ads. People should be able to rightly assume they are protected with
all kinds of advertising.
As Graham Temple stated ‘If it’s good enough for Daz, then it
should be good enough for Boris.’
For the more about the political advertising debate, please
see the full report by The Drum here.