Stand By Your Ad – What Does That Mean?
Why is this website titled Stand By Your Ad? The answer lies within a five word phrase;“…And I approve this message”.
Those five words have become synonymous with American politics and campaign advertisements. As we watch political campaign ads – taking in the visuals and music that carry the message deep into our psyche – we await the big reveal to the ultimate question; who is behind this? As the commercial comes to a close, the familiar voice of a candidate, laying claim to the message, recites the all-too-familiar five worded phrase “…and I approve this message”. But WHY do candidates say that? And what does that have to do with the name of this site?
Striking From the Shadows: Attack Ads
For as long as campaigns have existed, so too, have attack ads. Even our founding fathers engaged in this behavior! During the campaign of 1800, John Adams President described his rival, Thomas Jefferson, as “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father”! Yikes.
Attack ads, or “negative ads” according to wikipedia.org are “advertisements whose message is designed to wage a personal attack against an opposing candidate or political party in order to gain support for the attacking candidate and attract voters.”, in other words, negative ads are ads in which candidates attack other candidates, usually on a personal level, to influence voters. Though political nastiness is an American tradition, the rise of negative attack ads in campaign commercials can be traced back to the 1960’s; a rather tumultuous time in American society.
Negative attack ads began to run rampant, and often were released anonymously; striking political opponents without any culpability for the candidate behind the message. This not only negatively impacted candidates on both sides of the political spectrum, but also discouraged voters and cast a negative light on politics, in general. A bipartisan movement began to rise among congressional leaders to curb this trend of negative advertising by demanding candidates claim responsibility for the content of their ads.
“…And I Approve This Message”
After years of attempts to control negative advertising through legislation, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was passed in 2002. This law’s main objective was to reform the way political campaigns were financed, but one major provision of the law became known as the Stand By Your Ad Provision.
The Stand By Your Ad Provision compels a political candidate in the United States to include “a statement by the candidate that identifies the candidate and states that the candidate has approved the communication” in all of their television or radio advertisements. In other words, the message to a candidate is that you must Stand By Your Ad. The reasoning behind the law is that if a candidate must physically endorse their messaging, they are less likely to engage in negative attack advertising. In an interview with Mic, Senator Ron Wyden, one of the provisions co-authors, stated that “I’ve always thought that when you have the candidates actually have to stand behind it in that way, that makes a candidate a little bit more careful in terms of what they say and how it’s perceived,”.
Studies show that this requirement, though likely annoying to candidates, as it eats up valuable advertising time, is actually beneficial to candidates! In a study by BYU, political ads where the candidate has approved the message have a more positive impact compared to those that did not, regardless of whether viewers know the candidates well. The study also showed that Stand By Your Ad made viewers have more confidence that the political campaigns were run in a truthful and fair manner.
Shadowy Hitmen of Politics…
Stand By Your Ad did not solve all of the political world’s advertising problems, however. Stand By Your Ad only applies to advertisements that the candidate’s campaign has directly paid for, and only applies to radio and television advertisements; leaving the internet and other new mediums as the wild, wild West of advertising. Further, what about advertisements that are paid for….by someone else?
In a highly controversial landmark US Supreme Court case known as Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that political spending is a form of free speech, and that limits on political spending would place a limit on said free speech, thus violating the First Amendment. Further, it declared that corporations and political action committees (PACs & Super PACs) are made up of people, and thus can act as an individual, therefore, corporations and other groups have free speech rights, and therefore, unlimited political spending ability.
As a result of Citizens United, outside groups and corporations are free to spend an unlimited amount of money on campaign advertising, and more importantly, the Stand By Your Ad provision does not apply to them. Super PACs and other outside groups are free to make any type of advertising they want as long as they announce that they are not in any way connected (difficult to prove) to a particular candidate or campaign. Thus, in this era of technology and inordinate spending, Stand By Your Ad is routinely challenged. Though there have been attempts to strengthen the provision with updated legislation, all measures have failed to pass through Congress.
Can You Spot The Difference?
A New Hope...
Staying politically savvy in the Information Age would seem to be easier for citizens than ever before. We live in an era where news and information are at the fingertips of the people and accessible on-demand. Ironically, it may be more challenging to make an informed political decision as a voter than in previous decades. The decision in Citizens United opened the floodgate for political advertisements to assault the electorate in suffocating fashion. Ads come at citizens from all directions; from outside groups and parties who can skirt Stand By Your Ad regulations, and from the candidates themselves. In an era where the average person seems busier than ever, how can one make truly informed political decisions in light of the sheer amount of political content that comes their way? Enter StandByYourAd.com
We decided to name ourselves after the Stand By Your Ad provision for one simple reason; we believe Americans should know where the advertisements they see come from. We believe in helping citizens make informed decisions. Though the Stand By Your Ad provision does not solve all of the advertising-based issues in American Politics, we believe that it is essential for the health of our elections, and we strive to further its mission and goal.
What do you think? Should ALL advertisements be met with the same standard as candidate-funded ads? Does the Stand By Your Ad provision limit free speech of the candidates? What questions do you have about campaign advertisement regulations? Let us know in the comments below!
This is Stand By Your Ad, and we approve this message!