The 2018 midterm elections are coming up, and while this isn't the sort of thing that comes up on a marketing blog often, this year is special and online political advertisers will be under a lot more scrutiny. Recent events have shown that when things go wrong with online political ads, it can bring a lot of negative attention to the social media platform, any ad agencies involved and the political campaign that commissioned (or benefited from) the ads. As one of the main targets of scrutiny, Facebook is implementing a series of reforms for advertisers who wish to run political ads.

Facebook plans to phase in these new requirements over the next couple of months. The guidelines will initially apply to the U.S. only, but Facebook has stated it's plan to expand the rules to other countries in the near future. So Facebook marketers around the world should be prepared to see these rules applied to their ads as well.

By the time you're reading this article, the first phase of these changes have begun. Starting May 7, authorized advertisers, who have successfully met the requirements for authorization to run political ads, must begin labeling ads. Ad creators will start seeing an indicator saying "This is a political ad" during the ad creation process. Advertisers must use this indicator (a checkbox or switch, depending on what product you're using) to let Facebook know whether an ad is political.

Facebook users shouldn't start seeing any actual label on ads until May 22nd. Facebook hopes the two weeks of advance notice will give advertisers time to properly set up their campaigns and to help avoid disruptions in ad delivery. Things are still in a tentative state and Facebook acknowledges that "the label that appears in the preview during ads creation may not be the final label that appears to the public starting May 22." What we know for sure is that ads will display a "paid for by" plus the approved disclaimer selected during the authorization process.

To improve transparency and accountability, Facebook will also create an archive of political ads. All ads marked as political will automatically become part of the archive when it launches.

Though using the political ad option during ad creation is voluntary, there are serious ramifications for publishing a political ad without declaring it. Once the political label starts display publicly on May 22, people will have the option to report any existing ads which they think are political but do not have the label. Reported ads will be reviewed, and, if found to be political, the ad will be disapproved and added to the archive.

On June 4th, Facebook will review all of the current political ads to make sure they meet the new criteria. Advertisers will be given a chance to fix ads that have issues. It's clear that Facebook wants all of this in place before the height of political ad season, which is fast approaching for the U.S. midterm elections.

Facebook marketers who are considering running political ads should do the authorization process now if they haven't done so already. To get authorized, advertisers will need to complete the following steps:

  • Page admins and ad account admins will submit copies of their government-issued ID to Facebook and provide a residential mailing address for verification.

  • Facebook will confirm each address by mailing a letter with a unique access code that only the admin's Facebook account can use.

  • Advertisers will have to disclose who paid for the ads.

Failure to follow these, and other rules will result in advertisers being unable to run political ads; which would be a problem for any agency that sold a package to a client that included political ads. So potential political advertisers should get their affairs in order before May 22.

To read more news that can help marketers plan for the future, read this article on a study about the benefits of deals and promotions in reaching a target audience.