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Debate: Improved regulation in political advertising

Thursday March 22, 2018 at 5:23pm

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 Drum’s debate.

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 Electoral Commission
  • Will Harris, CMO, former Tory marketer
  • Natalie Gross, Partner TH_NK​

 Arguing 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.

Graham 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 truthful.’

Providing 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:

52% FOR
48% AGAINST   

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.

» Categories: General, Self Regulation, Legal