This article was updated in May 2022.
If it is true we are judged by the company we keep, and Facebook has decided to run political ads even when fake, will people start to think branded messages on the platform are fake, too? Is Twitter a safer place for brands given its decision to ban all political ads?
Ad executives are pondering the issue leading up to the 2020 presidential election and U.K.’s general election on Dec. 12.
“Facebook has not decided to ‘run fake political ads,’” says Los Angeles-based publicist Christine Mango, responding publicly to a journalist query in a private Facebook group. “They have decided not to police the ads and [it’s] not their job to regulate content. THANK GOD. FYI, I bought a skincare cream from a FB ad and they claimed it was going to reduce fine lines. It did not. Get my point?”
Mango did not respond to a formal interview request.
The Truthiness of Facebook Ads
“Truth is the word we’re thinking about, isn’t it,” says Richard Pinder, CEO of Rankin, the London creative agency launched in September by fashion photographer and filmmaker John Rankin Waddell. Pinder was previously COO of Crispin Porter Bogusky and a member of the Publicis Groupe Executive Committee.
“We’ve come to the conclusion that truth is the most important requirement from the audience,” Pinder says. “Then of course, you can have an interesting conversation about booze truth or watch truth.”
“But when truth is lost, audiences part company with media companies, with brands, with everyone.” — Richard Pinder, CEO, Rankin
Pinder’s perspective adds a cultural richness to the discussion as he brings up purdah, the period between the announcement of a U.K. election and election day. (Purdah in Urdu means “veil” or “curtain.”)
During purdah, the government places heavy restrictions on political advertising. But in the absence of laws regarding political ads on social media, Facebook continues to take money from organizations with political messages—which is bringing up bad memories of the 2016 Brexit referendum and 2017 general election, Pinder says.
Truth, Lies & Facebook
In line with the British flair for irony, Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister, joined Facebook in 2018 as head of global policy and communications. As a pro-Brexit politician, he complained about the spreading of lies four years ago. Today Clegg is championing Facebook’s freewheeling deals.
It’s not a smashing hit.
“We’re definitely seeing clients challenging how much they rely on Facebook,” Pinder says. “They still use it; they’re just starting to worry more.”
Matt Rednor, CEO of New York-based Decoded Advertising, says he does not have any clients worrying about brand safety per se on Facebook. However, he says that could change if someone were to run a fake ad about their company.
“Okay, I will say that we do think the Facebook ad review process is pretty hypocritical,” Rednor says. “Brands must substantiate all claims during network and legal reviews, unlike the political ads that Facebook gets paid to run.”
“It’s pretty ridiculous to find out that political ads go unchecked and don’t have to be substantiated.” — Matt Rednor, CEO, Decoded
It gets trickier: There’s no brand safety when Facebook decides you’re the one in the wrong.
Twitter Steps In
“Some of our brands have had their ads flagged for being ‘too political’ by Facebook, even though they have nothing to do with politics,” Rednor says. “We’re literally talking about research that a brand is doing for the environment, and not allowed to run, but it’s a brand doing good for the world.”
Rednor says he and his circle of friends believe that Facebook should ban political ads as Twitter did. But he points out yet one more layer of complexity: Twitter’s decision to place restrictions on issue ads.
Twitter’s ban on political advertising and new limits on cause-based marketing stem from the corporation’s philosophy that message reach about elections, judicial outcomes and legislation should be earned, not bought.
“Cause-based advertising can facilitate public conversation around important topics,” the website states. Organizations wanting to educate people about the environment, social equity or other such issues must obtain advertiser certification, refrain from geo-targeting at a zip-code level, and never use keywords such as “conservative,” “liberal” or “political elections.”
For-profit organizations that seek to run ads that educate, raise awareness, and/or call for people to take action in connection with these causes must also comply with the following additional restrictions:
- Ads should not have the primary goal of driving political, judicial, legislative, or regulatory outcomes; and
- Ads must be tied to the organization’s publicly stated values, principles, and/or beliefs.
Twitter Bans Political Ads
Danielle Wiley, CEO of Bay Area-based influencer marketing company Sway Group, says her team is elated with the Twitter ban.
“We’ve seen that the performance on Twitter has been terrific lately so we’re including it in more and more programs,” Wiley says. “We did a little fist bump when we saw the decision to not accept any political ads.”
With the addition of video and photo capabilities, Twitter is evolving from a text-based platform to a visual engine driving clicks to storefronts and microsites, she says.
Even Twitter chats, also known as parties, are making a comeback.
Years ago, social media managers would host a party to create excitement around a product launch or conference session; thousands of people would follow the conversation or ask questions using a signature hashtag. A 2015 Financial Times Live chat reached 440,000 accounts, generating millions of impressions around its Future of Marketing Summit.
“We’re actually doing a few [parties] pro bono for some clients but we have a lot of paid clients using them as well,” Wiley says. “We had to resurrect our Twitter party calendar to make sure we weren’t scheduling them on the same day, which hasn’t been an issue for years.”
While Rankin’s Pinder says public sentiment against Facebook may lead to real “data” indicating a downturn in business, Sway Group isn’t parting company just yet. “Despite how upset my partners and I might be personally by Facebook’s decision to let these false ads continue… you have to include Facebook and Instagram, Sway says.
“The algorithm is such that you can’t just put content up and hope people will see it. You have to pay money to Mark Zuckerberg.” — Danielle Wiley, CEO, Sway Group
Matt Rednor, CEO of Decoded, discusses truth in advertising on Velocitize Talks. Watch the video.