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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
Conduct of the 2016 federal election and matters related thereto

SANGSTER, Ms Jodie Alexandra, Chief Executive Officer, Association for Data-Driven Marketing and Advertising


Evidence was taken via teleconference—

CHAIR: Welcome. Thank you for, on somewhat short notice, joining us on the committee this afternoon. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. I now invite you to make a brief opening statement before we proceed to a discussion.

Ms Sangster : Thank you for inviting me along to the inquiry today. I will make a very brief opening statement around the issue that is the subject of discussion today. First of all, we represent, as an industry association, all types of organisations that are in the marketing industry. That will be client-side marketers, suppliers into the industry. We represent the channels through which organisations can reach customers and we also represent advertising agencies.

The issue that is before us today around stating within advertising who has authorised a political advertisement is quite a niche area, but it is a subject that we have a position on. The reason behind the requirement is to make clear to individuals who has endorsed an advertisement. It provides some context to individuals and it also requires politicians to stand by the claims that they make in their advertisements. This relates to advertising standards generally, which is something that we represent in our industry. That is the brief opening that I would like to make. I realise there are a number of questions that you would like to ask and I am happy to answer those for you.

Senator LEYONHJELM: ADMA used to be Australian Direct Marketing Advertising, is that right?

Ms Sangster : That is right, yes.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Primarily direct marketing is material sent by mail via lists. Is that primarily your members' focus?

Ms Sangster : No. Originally, in 1966, when we were set up, we were a direct mail association. That changed to direct marketing, which is any marketing where you are using an individual's information to reach them. When we changed to direct marketing that would also include mail, telephone, email, online advertising et cetera. About three years ago we changed our name to Data-Driven Marketing, and that reflects the new channels that are used to reach individuals. Now it has extended into broadcast channels, radio, TV, social medial and mobile marketing, because every channel that you now use to reach a customer either generates data or uses data in order to make that connection. We now go across the full spectrum of channels to reach consumers and individuals.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Okay, thank you—that clarifies it. So your members would be dealing with the Commonwealth Electoral Act and the authorisation of voter communication process very intimately, wouldn't they?

Ms Sangster : Yes, absolutely. Many of our members would be working with the government and political parties to put together marketing and advertising campaigns to reach voters and constituents.

Senator LEYONHJELM: We have limited time here, but what do your members think of that authorisation process?

Ms Sangster : They deal with the requirement because it is a legal requirement. Obviously it is their job to make sure that they do comply with the law, so I do not think there are an awful lot of questions around making sure that the advertisement has authorisations within it. Is it easy to do? Sometimes it can be a little bit clunky to have to state that at the end of an advertising campaign, but, as it is a legal requirement, it will stay there. One of the challenges moving forward though is that now there are so many channels through which you can reach individuals. In some instances, it is not easy to include the statement around who authorised the advertising within certain types of channels and certain types of mediums. A couple of examples of that might be that certain social media have a limited number of characters, so it is quite hard to include it in there, and it might be quite hard to include it in text or text messages on a mobile phone. So there are certain channels where it can become a little bit more complicated to include that information.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Do they have any thoughts about what would be an easier way to identify who is behind a political communication?

Ms Sangster : If it was going to extend out to new channels, or to all channels, in fact, the provision or the requirement would have to be worded so that it is within the advertisement or there is the means through the advertisement to link through to that information. It may just be a nuance of how it is worded, so it does not actually have to be in the advertisement itself, but the advertisement has to provide the link to that information, and that would make it much easier to include in the mediums that have limited characters.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Yes, that makes a lot of sense. What impact on the financials, if you like, of your members' business do the authorisation requirements in the act create? Are there additional costs involved?

Ms Sangster : There are additional costs involved because of the requirement. Well, there are two costs involved. I am not sure what the costs are; I can find out for you. One is the recording to make sure that that is recorded, particularly if it is going to go into video or into some sort of broadcast message. That is one cost there. The other cost would be around the length of time that it takes up within certain forms of advertising. As you know, you pay almost per second, so it can take up time, and that would be an additional cost. That said, I do not think, on both of those counts, that they are huge costs. I think the industry is very used to doing this now, so it is seen as part and parcel of putting these sorts of marketing and advertising campaigns together.

Senator LEYONHJELM: The concern raised by the Electoral Commission is that misleading advertising may occur and nothing can be done about it if there is no way of identifying who is responsible for it. Do you think that occurs now?

Ms Sangster : Do I think that misleading advertising occurs now—

Senator LEYONHJELM: With no way of identifying who was behind it. Do you think that that can occur now?

Ms Sangster : No. I mean, it would be very difficult for it to occur now—the reason being that we have an Advertising Standards Board. Any marketing or advertising agency that is working with a government political party is responsible to the Advertising Standards Board. If there is something in there that is considered misleading, that will go to that self-regulatory body, and they will pick up that complaint and work with the agency. The agency is always going to know who their client is, so it is possible to find out who has put forward that advertisement. So there is already a mechanism and a framework in place to deal with that. But I think perhaps the reason for having it stated within the advertisement itself is to make politicians or government a little bit more responsible for standing by the claims that they are making in the advertisement, rather than being able to step back and say, 'Well, I didn't endorse that statement.'

Senator LEYONHJELM: You can speak on behalf of your members on what occurs within Australia, but are your members concerned about, for example, a Twitter based campaign that could originate outside of Australia? The sorts of things that would apply to your members within Australia would not apply to the originator of that campaign.

Ms Sangster : Yes and no. Our members are very used to doing this and have found ways to work with the requirements. Twitter and text cause particular problems, and that would be one area where you would say, 'Okay, if you're working within Australia, you'd have these requirements imposed on you,' and it would probably stop you from using those media, because there are just not enough characters to be able to include that information. That obviously would put them at a competitive disadvantage if it was used outside of Australia and those requirements did exist. But I do not believe that text or Twitter are used hugely at the moment for this type of advertising, and at the moment these requirements do not apply to those two channels.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Another example I raised with the Electoral Commission was the possibility of doing Facebook posts, which are not limited to 140 characters and could originate from outside Australia, that are misleading and direct voters away from what the interests of a candidate or a party. Is that a matter that your members have considered?

Ms Sangster : Again, I do not think it is used greatly at the moment, and the provisions do not apply to that at the moment, but the whole issue of misleading advertising is very front of mind for all marketers across all channels. That is because of the Advertising Standards Board that already exists—their reputation—and the sanctions that can be imposed on marketers who are responsible for misleading advertising. It may not be specifically an issue for our members at the moment, but it is in the broader context of general misleading advertising.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your evidence today. I know that you were under significant time pressure, and we do greatly appreciate your taking the time to give this evidence today. You will be sent a copy of the transcript and will have an opportunity to request corrections to transcription errors. Thank you again for your time today.