Company wants exemption from FEC on disclaimers on political ads on smartphones

A D.C.-based media firm is petitioning the Federal Election Commission to exempt political advertisements on mobile and smartphones from standard ad sponsor disclaimers as campaign messaging adapts to ever-changing technologies.

The company, Revolution Messaging, says that such a move makes sense given the space restraints on handheld devices, including the new versions of the iPhone.

“Many of our clients have been unable to take advantage of mobile advertising capabilities after being told they need to include a disclaimer,” said Keegan Goudiss, the company’s partner and head of digital advertising. “It’s an impossible request because the disclaimer would end up larger than the ad itself.”

The FEC already offers exemptions for bumper stickers, buttons and other campaign gear that companies say are too small to make the disclaimer language practical.

“It is clear to us that mobile advertising should fall in that same category,” said Revolution founder and CEO Scott Goodstein, who built out President Obama’s mobile and social media strategy during the 2008 campaign as his campaign’s external online director.

Revolution’s petition says that even the latest smartphones and smartphones do not have screens larger than 5 diagonal inches — the iPhone 5 measures 4 inches diagonally, the Samsung Galaxy S4 measures 5 inches, and the Blackberry 10 is 4.2 inches. Banner ads, not surprisingly, tend to be significantly smaller than that.

A disclaimer would thus risk falling afoul of the requirement that ads be “clear and conspicuous” — if it did not dwarf the ad entirely, Revolution says.

The company has encountered several mobile advertising vendors that refuse to accept ads unless a disclaimer is included. Such disclaimers on television and radio ads have political candidates “approving this message” in either a live shot or with a voice-over accompanied by an image of the candidate.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau limits the dimensions of the largest available ad to 320 by 50 pixels, and Revolution is requesting a “small item” exemption on standard sizes of 320 by 50 or smaller.

A spokesman for the FEC said in an email that the commission does not comment on actions that may come before it and that each case is based on a unique set of circumstances. But the commission has decided in the past that some limited-character ads, like text messages, for example, are exempt from the disclaimer requirements.

Revolution provides an example of how a 14-word disclaimer would take up more than 40 percent of the available space on a banner ad in which the political message is only 10 words.

“Even if the Commission were to craft a shorter alternate disclaimer, the number of pixels required to ensure that the disclaimer is legible and easy to read would prevent political advertisers from using mobile advertisements as a medium to communicate with voters,” lawyers for the company write in the request.

Alternatively, the company asks for an exemption based on the idea that disclaimers are impracticable for such ads.

Revolution was involved in last year’s FEC decision to allow political donations via text message for the first time, and it has petitioned the commission to outline regulations in order to stop political text message spam.

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