The Ins and Outs of Political Advertising

Political advertising is a key part of any campaign and has been for many elections. Recently, however, it has become more complicated, with evolving regulations, emerging platforms, and rapidly developing artificial intelligence adding new challenges and opportunities to digital advertising for political campaigns. 

A shifting and increasingly competitive playing field demands up-to-date political advertising strategies and tools to stand out in a crowded and contentious landscape. Let’s take a closer look at political advertising and the role programmatic ads play in political campaigns. 

Common Types of Political Ads

Regardless of party, political ads play a huge role in every electoral campaign. Most successful campaigns feature a blend of these common types of political campaign ads across various media platforms, from mailers to broadcasts, CTV, social media, display, audio and more. 

Candidate Introduction

This type of political advertising is a basic necessity for any campaign, providing firsthand information about the candidate to potential voters. Who are they? Why are they running? What are their core values? 

Candidate introductions include the most distilled and vital points about the candidate. They should give everyone who watches the ad something that sticks in their minds about the candidate and cover the bases. From there, any further political advertisements more focused on a particular issue are grounded in what they already know about the candidate from the introduction. 


Endorsements from individuals, publications, or organizations can be touted in advertising across channels and formats. These ads are great ways to gather a broad base of support while building credibility for a candidate.

It goes without saying that endorsements from value-aligned organizations will resonate with like-minded individuals. Publicizing these endorsements is key to ensuring that they’re being leveraged to their full potential, and not overlooked by the public. A candidate’s political advertising team can run ads highlighting any endorsement, but it cannot contain any information that the endorsing party has not directly stated.   

Positive Image

These next two common examples of political advertising are seen quite often, especially with digital media’s increased impact on races. Positive ads show the best qualities of your candidate and are often created to show their support for an issue that lots of people care about, or to show them doing something positive for the community. There are many ways to spin a positive image advertisement, and they are an excellent way to highlight parts of your candidate that will win over a specific demographic. 

Negative Image

The flip side of the previous example is, of course, negative image ads which are focused on making opposing candidates look bad in the eyes of a specific demographic. It’s important to navigate regulations carefully when creating these types of ads, and avoid misrepresenting the facts or stating falsehoods. These ads can effectively win over swing voters and keep a base from straying.  

Citizen Testimonial

Another example of standard political advertisements is citizen testimonials. This can be a compelling ad format, featuring citizens talking about their opinions on a candidate. These ads are great ways to show organic support for your candidate and are often less refined and polished than other ads, lending them an air of authenticity.

Highlighting citizen testimonials helps viewers can see people like themselves talking about the candidate and expressing their own opinions. This is also very effective on social media, especially with the meteoric rise of the short-form video. Candidates in the legislative process and democratic process utilize citizen testimonial advertisements regularly. 

Regulations for Political Advertising in the United States

Of course, all political ads must follow strict regulations across platforms. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates political advertising. These rules create a fair playing field where the boundaries of ads are well-defined. Some forms of digital political advertising are a well-trodden field, while others, like social media channels, are much newer and less understood. 

Sponsored Ads

Political ads must identify the sponsor. You may sponsor your own ads, or you may receive funding from other areas. The organization or individual who sponsors the ad must meet the following criteria: 

  • The words “sponsored by” or “paid for by” are required if the candidate or their committee sponsors the ad. 
  • The names of any businesses, organizations, and individuals who contribute to the ad must be included. 
  • If the ad qualifies as an independent expenditure or otherwise supports or opposes a candidate, the ad must contain the names of the top 5 contributors.
    • If any of those contributors are maintained or controlled by another entity, the sponsor ID must include the names of those entities.
    • If any of those contributors represent a political action committee, the sponsor ID must also list the top three donors to that political committee.

Reasonable Access

Legally qualified federal candidates are allowed, by law, to reasonably access broadcast time throughout all parts of the broadcast day. This means they have access to the prime slots on each network. 

Equal Opportunities

In a similar vein to reasonable access, the FCC requires broadcast stations to provide the same opportunities to all candidates. If they allow one candidate to use their facilities and offer them a particular amount of prime time, they must also provide the same amount of time with the same terms to every other candidate. 

Lowest Unit Charges

Candidates receive discounts on broadcast time in the 45 days before the primary or caucus and the 60 days of election periods before a run-off election. Legally qualified candidates received the lowest unit charge or unit rate (LUR) during that time, allowing political candidates to run many more ads during that period. 

Online Disclosure

Disclosure requirements for online platforms are less strict than those regulating political advertisements on more traditional mediums, like television and radio. There is no federal law from the FCC, so each state defines online political advertising differently. 

States like California, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Washington have laws regarding the sponsorship disclaimer requirements for political advertisements and public databases with information about these ads. Other states also have rules regarding sponsorship disclaimers or record-keeping, but not both. 

Regulations for Political Advertisement on Online Platforms

The question of who regulates political advertising online is complicated because of all the separate advertising channels. Online platform regulation for political advertisement differs between states and between platforms. Platform-specific regulations exist on social media, web channels, email, podcasts, and more. An experienced advertising partner like AUDIENCEX can help you navigate these fragmented regulations and ensure full compliance.

Regulations for Social Media Channels

Political advertising on social media channels is an ever-evolving mix of regulations specific to each platform. Some social media channels, like LinkedIn and Pinterest, have banned political ads completely, while others have comprehensive political ad regulations, like Google and Meta. 

Meta’s regulations focus only on the sponsorship ID required in all ads. All political ads, like television ads, must disclose the sponsorship ID for the ads. Online ads are powerful due to demographic targeting. Political campaign ads on Meta and other social media channels can target very specific demographics to maximize each ad’s impact.  

There will likely be additional political advertising laws as campaigning on social media websites grows more prevalent and when there is more recorded information regarding such ads and their effects. In the meantime, there is a lot of competition for ad space on social media channels, and certain tools like real-time bidding with programmatic advertising let campaigns secure premium spots.

Regulations for Web and Search Channels

Google is the biggest web and search channel, and their regulations on political ads include restricted targeting. Only geographic location, age, gender, and contextual targeting options like ad placements, keywords, and topics are acceptable targeting. No other types of targeting are allowed in election ads. 

On top of restricted targeting for election ads, all political advertisements run by candidates must disclose sponsorship IDs. The disclosure must be visible and legible for video ads. Audio-only advertisements must submit the sponsorship ID at a similar speaking speed as the rest of the advertisement.

Programmatic DSPs each have their own regulations, requirements, and capabilities for political advertising as well. Some feature integrations with political data providers, or the ability to leverage CRM data securely in full compliance with regulations. Working with an advertising partner can help you to find the correct mix of platforms and channels for your advertising, and ensure that you’re fully leveraging these platforms to their full potential.

Regulations for Email Marketing Channels

The CAN-SPAM Act governs regulation for all email marketing, political advertising included. This law outlines the rules for commercial email and messages, gives the recipients the right to unsubscribe from any mailing list, and establishes penalties for violations. 

The requirements of the CAN-SPAM Act are as follows: 

  • Don’t use false or misleading header information. The message must identify the campaign or business that initiated it. 
  • Don’t use false or misleading subject lines. Likewise, the subject line must reflect the message.
  • Proper identification. The message must contain the identification required in any political communications advertising. The disclosure must be clear and easy to see. 
  • Location information. Messages must include a valid physical postal address. 
  • Clear and present opt-out information. An easy-to-follow process must show recipients how to opt out of future marketing emails. 
  • Promptly fulfill opt-out requests. There is a 30-day maximum that can elapse between the time you receive an opt-out request and the time you remove the email from your list. 

Every separate email violating these requirements is subject to penalties of up to $50,120. 

Regulations for Video and Podcast Channels

The FCC does not regulate political ads on podcast and video channels. This lets podcast networks make their own rules regarding political advertising, with the specifics varying between each network. 

Cadence13, for instance, is open to any form of political advertising, and it lets podcast hosts decide whether or not they want a political ad running on their podcast. The hosts also have the power to pick and choose the political ads that run on their podcasts. On the other hand, some networks such as NPR do not accept any political advertisements on their media platforms.    

Redefining Essential Campaign Elements for Political Ads

Every successful political advertising campaign should follow advertising best practices, but political advertising has some intricacies that differ from other advertising campaigns. The ultimate goal of advertising campaigns is to sell a good or service to potential consumers. In political advertising, that translates to support, donations, volunteering, and votes for your candidate.

It’s important to take advantage of all kinds of advertising to establish a consistent presence, including traditional political advertising channels such as linear TV, mailers and canvassing alongside digital channels. A fully holistic omnichannel strategy can help you reach as many people as possible while refining your message for each of those mediums.

Your advertising must also reach and engage varying audiences, and each of those audience segments will respond differently to the ads you run. Ensure that your political advertisements leverage messaging that is consistent with your campaign’s overall positioning while adjusting for the specific tone and context of each platform and placement. 

Defining Campaign KPIs for Political Ads

The Key Performance Indicators of your political ads provide essential data to measure the success of your political campaigns. An accurate read of your ads will empower your campaign to make better ads in the future, reach broader audiences, and secure more votes. 

Let’s break down common KPIs in the context of a modern political campaign: 

  • Impressions. Impressions are very straightforward, representing the number of times someone sees one of your political ads.
  • CTR. Clickthrough rate shows you how successful your advertising campaigns are. You will want to maximize the clickthrough rate because that means more people are interested in your candidate beyond the little blurb in the advertisement.  
  • CPC. Cost per click is an important metric when dealing with the financial side of political advertising. You should try to find the lowest CPCs possible, but high CPCs are justifiable when setting ads at high-traffic sites. 
  • Conversions and Conversion Rate. The conversion rate is measured when a visitor completes the whole process. This could mean filling out a survey, subscribing to an information list, or polling for your candidate. 

With this data, you can analyze your political advertising and find the best campaigns, analyze what makes them successful, and plan how to emulate that success with future political advertising. Whether you are running ads for a presidential election or election to the city council, defining KPIs for political ads can be crucial to winning the race. The electoral processes may differ, but the key concepts of messaging, relevance, and performance are the same.

Benefits of Programmatic Advertising for Political Campaigns

Programmatic advertising is a powerful tool to automate media campaigns and optimize campaign impact. Political campaigns are complex and many-faceted, and you need a substantial advertising strategy to win over the competition. Making that happen takes a lot of time: sometimes, more than a political campaign team can afford to spend. That’s where programmatic advertising can help. Programmatic advertising increases campaign performance through demographic targeting, automation, and tools backed by machine learning and artificial intelligence technology. 

Programmatic advertising also provides access to a wide range of channels and formats, spanning display, native, audio, video, CTV, digital out-of-home, and more. And with advanced audience targeting tactics, such as precise geotargeting, contextual targeting, data-driven modeling and more, you can ensure that each of those channels is being leveraged appropriately to reach relevant voters and engage them effectively.

Construct a Compliant and Successful Political Campaign

Ensure that you follow all political advertising regulations to avoid fines and bans from media channels throughout your political campaign. Make the most of every media channel and varied political advertisements to best inform the voters of your candidate’s message, their beliefs, and why they should be elected.

AUDIENCEX is a full-service, AI-enabled digital advertising partner built to drive campaign performance. Our technology-first, AI-powered approach to data science helps to drive performance throughout the lifecycle of any campaign with custom bidding algorithms, conversion pathway visualization, and automated real-time optimization to maximize your reach while minimizing your spend. 

Our team has fully integrated channel experts who can help you perform throughout the full digital ecosystem, and our strategists are fully versed in political advertising regulations and compliance. We have the deep expertise, tech and data access needed to effectively reach voters in any micro-niche, wherever they are. With fast and precise targeting for urban and rural areas alike, we can engage hyper-local, hyper-relevant audiences of any size – from national segmenting to the smallest communities.If you’d like to learn more about how AUDIENCEX can help you reach and mobilize the right voters to empower your cause, reach out today. We’d love to discuss what we can do for your campaigns.