Why Do Politicians Need to Say "I Approve This Message" in Their Ads?


As election season ramps up, voters will be seeing a lot of campaign ads on television, and without exception, they will conclude with the disclaimer “I approve this message.” It’s clearly a requirement, but how did it get started? It actually began in 2002 with the Stand By Your Ad provision, which was backed by then-senators John McCain and Russell D. Feingold. The goal was to curb muckraking, where candidates would lob ceaseless insults and accusations at one another. With Stand By Your Ad, lawmakers were hoping political candidates would think twice before engaging in dirty tactics and then attempting to deny any involvement. Call it a self-imposed campaign shaming. According to the FCC, the written statement must come at the end of the ad, appear for at least four seconds, be readable against a contrasting background, and occupy at least 4% of the vertical picture height. Candidates will typically identify themselves and say the message aloud. So does this “play nice” edict actually work? According to research, not really. In 2000, negative ads made up 29% of political spots, and now that has grown to 92%.