Thought Leadership

Advertising Association and Media Smart publish political advertising guide

New research shows people are less likely to trust political advertising compared to commercial advertising.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


In a week where Brits prepare to cast their vote at local elections and ahead of a general election later this year, political advertising is at the top of the marketing agenda. Across 2024 the citizens of over 60 countries, representing nearly half of the world’s global population will cast their votes. 2024 will be the biggest election year the world has ever experienced. 

For the advertising industry, it places political advertising firmly in the spotlight. A spotlight Media Smart, the advertising and media industry’s education program, is using to partner with the Advertising Association to increase education and understanding surrounding political advertising. 

In line with this endeavour, the group is publishing ‘What’s the deal with political advertising?’. A new 10-point guide that 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. 

Political advertising’s trust deficit

It comes as data from UK advertising think tank, 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. It answers a range of questions on election advertising rules, from how platforms are responding to digital and AI-generated content to steps to tackle misinformation and fact-checking.

It also aims to empower people to improve their political literacy with a range of resources. As well as highlighting how commercial advertising, subject to rules enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), differs from political advertising campaigns. Underlining that in the UK’s current regulatory framework, an advert for a packet of crisps faces more scrutiny than the claims of a Conservative prime minister or councillor. Or indeed the political claims of any other politician, from any party. 

This disconnect is underlined in Credos research which shows that 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). As the research underlined people are unsure about how political advertising is regulated. 

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.

The research also underlined significant differences in trust in political advertising by age. 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+).

Political advertising has a rich history in UK creative culture. The 1978 Conservative campaign by Saatchi & Saatchi declaring ‘Labour isn’t working’ is one of the most iconic adverts of recent history. Labour's Margaret Thatcher mock-up ‘Be Afraid’ by TBWA in 2001 is another memorable spot. Yet in an era of social media marketing, concerns over the ethics of political advertising have increased. Back in 1978, consumers were subjected to outdoor advertising everyone could see, increasingly algorithmic-powered one-to-one media targeting has added a veil of secrecy to political advertising. A shift which further erodes consumer trust. In this environment education is vital.

Rachel Barber-Mack, Executive Director of 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, added: “Our industry think tank, Credos, has conducted in depth research over the last 5 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 run across the Advertising Association’s and Media Smart channels online to help promote the guide. In addition, there will be five thought-provoking advertising executions, running across 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 Advertising Association is taking to drive public trust in the advertising industry with a full update on the trust programme for the industry scheduled for June.

To find out more about the campaign and download resources please visit Media Smart’s website here.

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Trust Politics