Ad platforms have been thrown into the forefront of scrutiny in recent years, resulting in stricter policies regarding political advertising. If you’re managing a political PPC campaign, whether promoting a candidate or an advocacy group, you should be aware of how each of the major platforms handles political ads.
You’ll likely run into much greater limitations than the average campaign you manage, and should know up front what extra approval processes you’ll need to go through and where you can’t advertise. Note that these policies can even affect campaigns that aren’t directly related to a candidate if your ads related to certain social issues. For instance, we’ve faced restrictions for ads related to raising money for a charity event, as well as ads discussing health care policy.
In this article, we’ll summarize the guidelines from each platform for political advertising.
Note that this post was most recently updated in December 2019. As political ads are a controversial topic and platforms keep modifying their restrictions, new policies are being rolled out frequently. We’ll do our best to update the post as policy revisions take place.
Platforms Banning Political Ads
Four major ad platforms, including Microsoft Advertising, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Quora, ban political advertising altogether. In October 2018, Microsoft Advertising decided to stop accepting any form of new political ads.
LinkedIn implemented a similar policy earlier in 2018. Here’s an excerpt from their Advertising Policy page: “Political ads are prohibited, including ads advocating for or against a particular candidate or ballot proposition, or otherwise intended to influence an election outcome.”
Quora also bans political content, stating, “We do not allow ads that promote specific candidates, parties, political action committees, or views on political issues with the purpose of influencing an election outcome.”
Finally, Twitter made waves toward the end of 2019 when it announced a full ban on political advertising, backtracking on its previous allowance of political ads after a verification process. Their guidelines are quite comprehensive, stating that “we define political content as content that references a candidate, political party, elected or appointed government official, election, referendum, ballot measure, legislation, regulation, directive, or judicial outcome.”
Shortly after Twitter announced their ban, Google released tightened restrictions on political advertising. While political ads are still allowed, advertisers who fall under the guidelines will need to go through a verification process.
After January 6, 2020 (earlier for the UK and EU), advertisers in areas where restrictions apply (including the US) will need to comply with the new guidelines. You can only use the following types of targeting:
- Geographic location (but not radius)
- Age and gender
- Contextual targeting (including placements, topics, keywords, apps, pages, and videos)
You can’t use audience targeting, such as remarketing or customer match. These restrictions apply across all Google advertising products, including search, display, YouTube, and Gmail.
For the US, ads featuring current officeholders or candidates for federal or state-level elected offices, federal or state level political parties, or state-level ballot measures qualify for regulation. Advertisers fitting any of these categories need to apply for verification including contact information, FEC ID or EIN, and a copy of their government-issued photo ID. A disclosure will accompany ads containing information about the organization or individual sponsoring the ads, and data will also be available publicly in an ads library.
Facebook allows political advertising once you’ve gone through a verification process. The organization page will need to verify their information, along with any individuals who will be assigned to the ad account. You should be prepared to provide an Employer Identification Number, .gov/.mil domain for a government organization, or FEC identification number if relevant.
You’ll also need to verify your business through both a phone number (note this needs to be a direct line since you’ll receive a recorded call with a code to enter), in addition to receiving a code at an email address.
Individuals will need to go through a process that involves submitting a government ID and requesting a pin number to be mailed to their address. They’ll also need to turn on two-factor authentication for their accounts. See more details in Facebook’s instructions.
In addition to containing the standard “Sponsored” label on Facebook, political ads will also call out the organization that is paying for the ad. Facebook also considers ads relating to a broad range of “issues of national importance,” such as the economy, education, healthcare, or poverty (see a complete list here), to be in a political category, so it’s worth checking with their support team if you think your topic will fall under scrutiny for their political policies.
Finally, note that all information entered for your organization will be available publicly for seven years in the Facebook Ads Library. Users will be able to see all ads you’ve run, basic demographic data for who was reached, and details on spend.
Tip: In addition to the Facebook Ads Library, check out ProPublica’s tool to research examples of political ads that other groups are running.
Launch Your Campaigns
Once you’ve gone through any necessary political verification process, you can proceed with launching campaigns. Note that you may face extra scrutiny on ads due to the political nature of the topic, so be ready to reach out to platform support or reps with any questions. At the end of the day, once compliant with guidelines, political campaigns can be run similarly to other PPC campaigns, monitoring metrics and optimizing for performance.
Have you run PPC political campaigns? What hurdles did you run into, and what advice do you have? Share in the comments below!