Only during these unprecedented times, would the ad community welcome a president who has said he will look to intensify regulating the digital sector, upend data collection practices and raise taxes. But these aren’t ordinary times.
Aside from a global pandemic that’s crippling economies, the global tech platforms have tremendous influence over public discourse and privacy, while people urge corporate CEOs to have higher ethical standards in their attempts to wriggle their way out of the mess caused by the pandemic. President Joe Biden doesn’t come bearing gifts to the ad industry in the same way his predecessor did, but his vision for privacy, consumer protections and antitrust issues could be a net gain for most of its stakeholders.
At least that’s the hope based on Biden’s outline of the future. Regardless, the industry will try to convince legislators that advertising and digital communication are central to economic recovery, said Dan Jaffe, evp of government relations at the trade body the Association of National Advertisers.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What parts of President Biden’s plan should advertisers watch closely?
Whatever anyone says at the moment is going to be an approximation, but it’s clear from the outset that the Biden administration will focus on issues that are relevant to advertisers. Privacy will be top of that list for a few reasons, ranging from the fact that Biden has said he will tackle the recent cyber-security breaches of federal government data to the privacy issues that could arise from attempts to use more data to track the spread of the virus. All these issues and more could have a broader impact on privacy concerns across the ad industry. There’s also the fallout from the insurrection in the capital earlier this month and what that means for the social platforms. Finally, there’s also the President’s stance on digital tax that advertisers will need to keep a close eye on.
I think anyone trying to put any kind of burden of advertising at a time when the nation is as close to the Great Depression as its ever been, makes it harder for the country to dig itself out of the hole it finds itself in. Companies that have been around for more than a century are going belly up. We need to find ways to create a stimulus, and advertising is clearly one of the major engines of the economy.
It seems like privacy will be the main pinch point for now?
There are people who have the ear of the president now that have strong feelings on privacy. When Vice President Kamala Harris was the attorney general of California she made privacy a big part of her remit. Now that the Democrats have a majority in the Senate this puts Senator [Maria] Cantwell as the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and she has had an extensive piece of privacy legislation that she put forward in 2019. Then there’s Senator [Ron] Wyden… who has also put legislation out in regard to privacy. Within the committee, there are people like Senator [Ed] Markey, who is considered the father of the Privacy Bill of Rights act, alongside Senator [Richard] Blumenthal, Senator [Brian Schatz] and Senator [Amy] Klobuchar, all of whom have shown an interest in privacy.
Interestingly enough, the Republicans also want a national law around privacy. The fight in the Senate, however, will be whether it’s national law or a federal one. A regulatory, state-by-state balkanization of privacy rules could create effective and efficient advertising. The business community, certainly the part that’s associated with the ANA at least, is pushing for a national law albeit one that would have federal preemption.
What impact could Biden’s plans have on how social networks shape public discourse?
The Biden administration is certainly going to be more regulatory minded than the previous one. Once he gets control over the Federal Trade Commission then there’s a good chance things could start to change quickly. Biden has been concerned by Section 230, a law that protects social networks and other sites from liability for anything posted by third parties. Republicans are also concerned about the same issue.
Are there any other individuals in the Senate that advertisers should keep an eye on?
One thing to be aware of is that Senator [Charles] Schumer will be the Senate majority leader and he is from New York. The city has always been a center for advertising and Schumer has always been cognizant of his value. Schumer will certainly have a large voice with senators as well as with those officials at the White House. His background means we will have someone who will at least hear us out. But we won’t know whether he’ll go along with those views until the moment. He has, however, been supportive of the industry in the past. He was very opposed to taking away deductions for advertising during the tax rewrite process in 2018. It was a 50% reduction.
How could a 50-50 Senate impact some of these plans?
If anyone on the Democratic side of Congress dies or is somehow incapacitated, then the party’s control of it slips in the blink of an eye. That could cause issues when trying to pass through new plans. We saw this when the previous administration tried to pass through a new designee for the Federal Reserve Bank and two Republican senators were sick and couldn’t come to the floor.
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