Ex-Unilever marketer and founder of brand consultancy Entropy, Alex Tait, has joined forces with Benedict Pringle, who founded the site Political Advertising and works as business director at The&Partnership, to launch a non-partisan group titled The Coalition For Reform In Political Advertising.
In the wake of Facebook's Cambridge Analytica Crisis, in which the data of some 87 million users was believed to have been harvested with the intent to influence elections, the coalition is calling on parliament to implement a four-point plan to improve the transparency around political ads.
The group want the UK government to:
- Legislate so that all paid-for political adverts can be viewed by the public
- Create a body to regulate political advertising
- Require all factual claims used in political adverts to be pre-cleared
- Compulsory watermarks to show the origin of online adverts
Efforts will initially be led by practitioners in the industry who are "passionate about responsible advertising", but members are calling on other organisations and individuals from across the political spectrum to join too.
The move comes in the same week that Cambridge Analytica closed its doors for good.
It also follows on from a similar call from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), which last month made an official request for the UK Electoral Commission and wider political community to pause micro-targeted political ads online.
In line with the proposals from The Coalition For Reform In Political Advertising, the IPA also wants all political creative work – which is not subject to the same stringent ASA guidelines as other ads – to be listed for public display.
The IPA's argument is that “while not regulated” these ads would become transparent and accountable for all members of the public to see should they wish.
Unlike The Coalition For Reform In Political Advertising, the IPA has not suggested that a watermark to indicate political advertising or clearance of facts before publication is the answer to the industry's concerns.
Political regulation 'failed to keep pace'
Coalition co-founder Pringle said that while he had a "huge affection" for political advertising as a discipline, regulation has failed to keep up with the pace of change in digital.
"A once proud British political tradition is at risk of becoming permanently tarnished," he added. "Political advertisers should be held to the same level of scrutiny as all other advertisers; it shouldn't be one rule for them and another rule for everyone else. To borrow a common political campaigning refrain: it's time for a change."
Tait agreed: "In recent years, the rules designed to safeguard against the spread of disinformation and promote healthy political debate haven’t kept up with the pace of new communication technologies.
"Brands talk a lot about adapting their models for marketing in a digital world and we believe we are proposing no more than that for political campaigning."
Facebook itself has said that it will be extending a raft of measures to allow its users to identify the source of political ads that appear in their feed to the UK in 2019.
This means any any party or organisation running political ads will need to be authorised and that ads of a political nature will have to be signposted as such, alongside details of who funded them.
Last week, the UK government demanded that Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg come give evidence in person to MPs, warning that if he does not agree he could face formal summons the next time he lands on UK soil.