The [Content] Do’s and Don’ts of Political Ads

While Politics is certainly a topic to keep away from your family dinner table, the importance of the 2020 U.S. presidential election is too meaningful to steer clear of in your daily life — and that stretches well beyond the borders of the U.S. given the effect it’s bound to have globally.

Want to make the topic an even hotter one? Add advertising into the mix.

With digital behemoths like Facebook in hot water over the hate speech and misinformation challenges they’re facing, it has ad platforms looking inward to understand their own roles within the bigger electoral picture.

And while some are considering ridding political ads altogether, it begs the question — given reach, could that adversely cause voter suppression? And further, is there a better way?

Well, the votes are in… literally. A recent Xander study showed consumers (future voters!) truly see the value in political advertising — 79% of which say political advertising needs to exist.

It’s clear. Political ads aren’t bad in nature — what’s bad are some of the poor policies surrounding them. And while we’ve heard many a complaint in the past over this very topic (we feel your ad rejection pain!), we’re proud at Outbrain to have some of the strictest Advertising Guidelines in the business. And trust me, they only get stricter when it comes to political ads given the sensitivities of the topic. Not to mention that we also have the largest ad network in the U.S. — yes, greater than Facebook.

But hey, that strictness shouldn’t stop you, by any means, if you have an electoral narrative to tell! And, if anything — should give you a sense of confidence in the safety and adjacency for your campaign. Which is exactly why we created this very listicle, helping to outline the Do’s and Don’ts of Political Ads on the (very neutral) Outbrain network.

Political Ads: Do’s and Don’ts

✅  DO: Provide the Clearest Disclosure

Let’s start with an easy, industry-standard win, eh?

All political ads must contain clear disclosure of who has paid for the ad, both on the landing page and within the ads site name — no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Lesson Learned

🚫 DON’T: Be Irrelevant or Indirect (That Goes For Location Too!)

From the targeting of your audiences down to the images in your ad campaigns, there’s nothing that’ll hurt your performance more than lack of relevance.

After all, 90% of consumers deem ads not personalized to them as “annoying” — don’t be annoying.

And this is where message matching and direct urgency can be your best friends, keeping your creatives consistent and enticing from pre-click to post-click. Here are a few examples:

  • Use similar headlines in your ads and landing pages.
  • Align your design aesthetics throughout.
  • Tell consumers exactly what you’d like them to do (e.g. register).
  • Utilize action verbs to drive urgency (e.g. “Quick!”).

And speaking of locational relevancy, marketers must be based in the United States — that goes for your billing location as well! And ads for state and local campaigns are unfortunately not permitted in California, New Jersey, New York, or Washington.

Lesson Learned

✅  DO: Take the High (and Positive!) Road

If you’ve seen our standard campaign best practices in the past, you may recall that negative headlines perform better than positive — but that flip switches when it comes to political advertising.

In fact, 52% of people say that attack-based ads make them like the candidate and party less — eek. And they went further to agree that removing political ads that have a negative tone is the number one way to best improve the consumer ad experience.

And we did just that — unallowing ads that attempt to humiliate or disparage a candidate, party, or group.

As the old saying goes, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” So, keep your content positive — or neutral, that works too!

Lesson Learned

🚫 DON’T: Focus Too Much On Your Competitor

Speaking of taking the high road, you also want to speak for yourself.

Even if the ad experience is positive in nature, ads about your competitors tend to be deemed misleading to consumers, given the clear disclosure from the opposing party.

Remember, when you’re promoting ads about any political candidate, you’re implying that you’re endorsing the message. And since 3 in 4 consumers already find political ads to include fraudulent or fake information, it really is best to stay in your lane.

Try to focus on the voice of your candidate, party, or organization — you’ll gain a greater trust from your future voters doing so.

Lesson Learned

✅  DO: Focus On the Facts

This one’s pretty self-explanatory — content should only contain neutral or positive stories or positions that are based on facts. No fake or misleading news!

And it’s important to note (again!) that Outbrain is a neutral platform, so no ad can appear to show Outbrain as promoting any specific candidate, party, or political agenda.

Lesson Learned

🚫 DON’T: Discount the Need For Trust

Did you know that 83% of people find it difficult to trust what they see and read in political ads? Yup, this one deserves another “eek”.

Luckily, there are ways (and platforms!) to gain higher ad-trust:

  • Keep things unbiased.
  • Include data or statistics.
  • Reinforce beliefs.
  • Address important topics.

And speaking of good statistics, Native Ad experiences (like Outbrain!) are trusted by consumers 31%more than Social Ads. Something to keep in mind as we’re getting closer to the presidential election in 2020.

✅  DO: Be Dynamic, B-e Dynamic

Dynamic Headlines, that is.

Through Outbrain, you can dynamically call out the consumers State or City throughout your headlines using a handful of fun punctuation points on the backend. This is a great way to both personalize your ads and pre-qualify your audiences (e.g. “New York Democrats!”).

Two small tidbits for you:

  1. Performance-wise, State callouts gain higher CTRs than City.
  2. Include some form of location selection in your subsiding landing page.

Lesson Learned

🚫 DON’T: Miss a Reason to Celebrate

You’re likely thinking, “This is similar to when a job candidate says their worst trait is being too organized,” right? You’re not wrong! 

Seeing the glass half full, big events such as birthdays or holidays perform really well for candidates and political parties — something to keep in mind when you’re looking for new creative inspiration.

We’re just about 100 days out from the presidential election on November 3rd, so here’s a helpful list of events to use to your ad-vantage (get it?). 👇

Lesson Learned

✅  DO: Use a Close-Up of Your Candidate

The ad image sweet spot = a headshot or close-up image of your candidate.

Have one with an American flag behind them? Icing on the sweet spot cake.

And guess what? You can use images of same-party candidates, which tends to widen your political parties’ audience net across election types.

Lesson Learned

🚫 DON’T: Be Negative

Seriously, just don’t.

Let’s Make It Skimmable

Remember, people want political ads — they often lead them down a road of discovery or research to acquire more knowledge about candidates and political parties, and education is everything in politics.

What people don’t want is misleading, irrelevant ad experiences — and with the bad actors around the world, that’s up to the ad platform to set strict, responsible guidelines for their advertising partners.

So, be sure to use these Do’s and Don’ts as political ad guardrails and best practices before diving into your next political campaign.


  1. Provide the Clearest Disclosure
  2. Take the High (and Positive!) Road
  3. Focus On the Facts
  4. Be Dynamic, B-e Dynamic
  5. Use a Close-Up of Your Candidate


  1. Be Irrelevant or Indirect (That Goes For Location Too!)
  2. Focus Too Much On Your Competitor
  3. Discount the Need For Trust
  4. Miss a Reason to Celebrate
  5. Be Negative

And again, with the largest ad network in the U.S. (88% of the entire digital population, to be exact!) — and 31% more trust than social ads, Outbrain is the clear choice as your next digital running mate.

Be sure to discover how we can support your political strategy, from persuasion to voter registration, here.

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