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Media Smart and Advertising Association publish political advertising guide

Media Smart, the advertising and media industry’s education programme, has partnered with the Advertising Association, the UK advertising industry trade body, to publish What’s the Deal with Political Advertising?

The new, 10-point guide aims to help people, especially young people preparing to vote for the first time, understand ads they may see ahead of this year’s local, mayoral, and general elections. It comes as data from UK advertising thinktank, Credos, shows 44% of people are concerned about political advertising, with people significantly less likely to trust political advertising (29%) than all/commercial advertising (39%).

Media Smart worked with youth-focused creative agency, Livity, to produce the guide which answers questions on election advertising rules; how platforms are responding to digital and AI-generated content; steps to tackle misinformation and fact-checking; and how people can improve their political literacy with a range of resources.

It also highlights how commercial advertising, subject to rules enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), differs to political advertising campaigns.

Political advertising has a rich history in UK culture, with famous ads including the 1978 Conservative campaign by Saatchi & Saatchi ‘Labour isn’t working’ and Labour’s Margaret Thatcher mock-up ‘Be Afraid’ by TBWA in 2001.

However, according to Credos research, people are unsure about how political advertising is regulated:

  • Almost three quarters of people (73%) believe that political advertising should be subject to the same rules and regulations as other forms of advertising (12% disagree and 14% don’t know).
  • Two in five people (39%) believe there is too little/no regulation, while a third (33%) think it’s about right, 10% think there is too much, and 18% don’t know.
  • Young people are most likely to trust political advertising (48% of 18-34s compared to just 13% of over 55s), but also had the highest levels of concern (49% of 18-34s compared to 44% of all people, 46% of 35-54s and 38% of 55+).

Rachel Barber-Mack, executive director, Media Smart, said: “In this year of elections, we want to help young people, especially those preparing to vote for the first time, fully understand political advertising. Research shows nearly half trust political advertisements, but a similar level have concerns. We have a responsibility to make sure they know how to read, check, and understand any advertising information received to help inform their voting decisions.”

Stephen Woodford, CEO, Advertising Association, said: “Our industry thinktank, Credos, has conducted in-depth research over the last five years to understand what builds and breaks the public’s trust in advertising. We know from the recent ASA ad campaigns that building awareness that all commercial advertising must be ‘Legal, Decent, Honest and Truthful’ drives significant improvement in trust. The public is more uncertain about political advertising and the Media Smart resources should help voters, especially those voting for the first time, be able to better understand political advertising.”

An awareness campaign will be delivered via AA and Media Smart channels online to help promote the guide, as well as through five thought-provoking ad executions in 300 universities and colleges through a partnership with Next-Gen Media. A guide on Media Smart’s website will also be available for teachers and parents to download for use in the classroom and at home. This new campaign is one of multiple actions the AA is taking to drive public trust in the advertising industry with a full update on the trust programme for the industry scheduled for June.

Further resources can be downloaded via Media Smart’s website.

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