Should We Allow Advertising on .gov websites?

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This topic contains 71 replies, has 38 voices, and was last updated by Profile photo of GovLoop GovLoop 3 years, 2 months ago.

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  • #138511
    Profile photo of GovLoop

    As reported by NextGov, yesterday there was a column in Wall Street Journal stating that .gov websites should accept advertisements.

    In the column, he suggested that IRS could make between $50-100 million in advertising alone from their website.

    In an interesting pilot study, WA Department of Transportation is working on a pilot of including advertising in their 410 million annual page views – really fascinating study and use case

    At one level, we are already doing a lot of advertising on gov’t property

    -Bus stops – full of ads

    -Inside bus & subway – full of ads

    -TSA bins – have Zappos ads in about 10 major airports

    Budgets are tight at all levels and may be a way to increase revenue.

    So what do you think, should we allow advertising on .gov websites?
    Are their cases where you think it’s okay?
    Certain types of sponsorships?

  • #138653
    Profile photo of GovLoop

    Interesting convo on Twitter on the topic

    RT : I also hate the idea of ads on .govs. Imagine advertising for his superpac on FCC site.

    RT : 3 acceptable .gov ads 1) Other .govs 2) Red Cross Donations 3) gov events – not much more

  • #138651

    So what are those little Facebook, Twitter and YouTube icons but mini ads?

    How about every time a Foresee survey pops up with their logo?

    Got other examples like that where there are de facto ads already?

  • #138649
    Profile photo of Denise Hill
    Denise Hill

    Interesting study. Would the revenue from placement of ads go directly to the Treasury?

    The study mentions a couple of times that, to stay within GSA requirements on use of .gov URL’s, they redirect to .com sites for pages that contain add placements. Even if agencies pilot use of placing ads on .com URL’s, the next version of the study could expand on:

    • prioritization and rotation of ads for entities that wish to place ads
    • how an agency would support ad placement without appearing to favor one entity over another (i.e. appearance of an unfair advantage or endorsement)
    • pricing of ads
    • Risk Management strategy; a strategy for avoidance of spending more than ad revenue due to the unintended increase of cost (i.e. increased telecommunications cost due to increased web site traffic) (See statement “In some scenarios, WSDOT might actually lose money…”)
    • FTE cost amortized over the anticipated lifetime of the hire (“at least six Full Time Equivalent employees (FTEs) including four sales staff, one manager, and one information technology staff person”)
    • Acquisition Strategy
  • #138647
    Profile photo of Chris Poirier
    Chris Poirier

    I think this is pretty simple, under current rules and laws I don’t believe this would be allowed at the federal level. Remember, the Federal Government isn’t here to “make money” and those organizations that “make money” do so via charges for services the government provides in order to suppliment appropriations and are allowed to do so via their establishing law. (e.g., GSA, Post Office, etc.) They basically are like non-profits for lack of a better example. Furthermore, regulations do not allow the federal government to “support” a specific brand, retailer, item, etc. Though I suppose you could open up the gates on advertising to everyone, to avoid violation of this clause you would have to accept ALL advertising submitted in order to not appear in support of a specific brand, etc.

    Sure, the Fed needs more money. (apparently anyway..despite the fact we should be examining the size and purpose of our government before we keep spending money as quickly as we can print it…) But this may be a bridge too far in order to remain within the legal confines, ethical confines, and regulatory requirements currently in place (yes..all, except for ethical confines, can technically be changed..but at what “cost?”)

    NOTE: on the facebook, youtube, etc logos on federal sites it has been questioned and debated at length if this violates any of the above and results are mixed based on different agency/departmental legal reviews. The issue of a “free service” is debated almost daily, though most agree that due to its “open” availability this is not as much an issue as an organization attempting to give something away they normally charge for.

  • #138645
    Profile photo of GovLoop

    Some thoughts from my FB link to this post:

    • Charlie Borrero Nope.
      8 hours ago ·
    • Lyne Robichaud Why not.
      8 hours ago ·
    • Jeffrey Abbott No. It degrades the perceived quality of the information. It would be better to ask for crowd-funding instead (since it is serving the people).
      7 hours ago ·
    • Joy Gatewood Fulton It raises the question, too, of why not allow naming rights of government buildings for profit?
      57 minutes ago ·
    • Alesia Booth I would love to be able to run government-specific ads – for other .govs or for government contractor jobs.
  • #138643
    Profile photo of GovLoop

    Good question on where the revenue goes – if going straight to Treasury, less incentive for agencies.

  • #138641
    Profile photo of GovLoop

    Zappos ads in TSA bins

  • #138639
    Profile photo of Stephen Peteritas
    Stephen Peteritas

    Here’s the question since it’s the government the ad choices more than likely would have to be non discriminatory, meaning as long as they were willing to pay the price ANYONE could advertise. That could include anything from smear campaigns to porn sites… not sure that’s something we want to deal with.

  • #138637
    Profile photo of Kirsten Burgard
    Kirsten Burgard

    As another commenter noted, Government isn’t in “business” to make money. It’s economics 101, no literally, I had to take that this year and it was one of the topics.

    I think The Wall Street Journal is being short sighted in it’s suggestion. For companies with the means to advertise, a link or mini ad on the screen gives an “impression” and often that impression isn’t just that there’s an ad on the page, but that the government agency’s page where that ad appears endorses or recommends the particular service of product.

    Take for instance HUD. Who’d advertise there? Mortgage brokers, lenders, banks, credit unions, etc… And HUD wouldn’t be able to control who those advertisers are once an ad is placed. Would they be sorting ads to remove anyone who might be on the prohibited list? Would they remove ads to lenders under investigation? What about USDA or VA? They also make home loans. Would a farmer or soldier know that the ads are just that, an ad, or would they perceive a connection between the lender and the agency? What about the Mine Safety Administration? Who’d be the ads? Coal industries? Perhaps coal mines looking to hire, perhaps even unsafe mines?

    With Zappos at TSA, I don’t have an issue. They aren’t selling a TSA service and couldn’t be construed as a potential conflict. It’s merchandise and TSA doesn’t sell anything.

    Most of our agency sites are specific to the constituents served. Allowing advertisements that will connect the dots for our audience puts advertisers at an unfair advantage.

  • #138635
    Profile photo of GovLoop

    All good points.

    @govfresh on Twitter said his acceptable ads on .gov websites would be – 3 acceptable .gov ads 1) Other .govs 2) Red Cross Donations 3) gov events – not much more

    Like those?

  • #138633
    Profile photo of Stephanie Slade
    Stephanie Slade

    Although I understand there are logistical concerns (how do you decide who does or doesn’t get to advertise on a .gov site?), the idea of allowing advertising in some way doesn’t bother me too much. I mean, when people click over to ESPN and see a “Cut down on your belly fat” ad, I think it’s pretty obvious it’s not an endorsement… are visitors to government websites that much more clueless than sports fans?

  • #138631
    Profile photo of Denise Hill
    Denise Hill

    Chris and Kirsten, Great points on opening perceptions for Unfair Competitive Advantage and collection of funds.

  • #138629
    Profile photo of

    If the ads are scrutinized for appropriateness and the revenue is specifically used to pay the bills, it might not be a bad idea.

  • #138627
    Profile photo of Colleen Ayers
    Colleen Ayers

    I haven’t seen this angle proposed yet – what sort of extra hold over government agencies would advertising give to companies? We’ve all heard the stories about companies trying to influence newspapers, television networks, magazines, etc., by threatening to pull their advertising. If we have federal agencies that become reliant on the revenue brought in by advertisers, then what happens if the agency wants to do something the advertiser doesn’t like? And it’d be hard to avoid this kind of conflict of interest even by being selective about advertisers, because companies these days are usually only a piece of a larger corporation that is involved in many different areas of American politics.

    So at least for paid advertising, I say definitely not on .gov websites.

  • #138625
    Profile photo of GovLoop

    I think that is the biggest fear – if get too close to advertising what happens if the agency wants to do something the advertisers doesn’t like

  • #138623
    Profile photo of LaTrisha Swayzer
    LaTrisha Swayzer

    This could be a good way to add to government revenue streams, which it seems are sorely needed, but I wonder about the ethics issues behind it. Would some companies be restricted from certain sites because that Agency may have a current contract or procurement with them? Would it seem like we are favoring or endorsing one company over another; in the public eye or to regulators in any case? And since fostering competition, especially for small business, is a government priority, would allowing advertising interfere with that? Larger advertising budgets mean more exposure.

  • #138621
    Profile photo of Chris Poirier
    Chris Poirier

    This is exactly part of my point. In order to remain in the clear on ethical issues as “advertising” as a government, we will have to accept adverts from ALL sources. It’s a bit of a pandora’s box problem..

  • #138619
    Profile photo of Chris Poirier
    Chris Poirier

    I love this idea, cross advertising to get the word out on government services is a GREAT idea.

  • #138617
    Profile photo of Chris Poirier
    Chris Poirier

    who gets to deterimine appropriateness? lots of potential free speech, equal advertising, etc issues here. It’s not like the government is a private business. Many laws, ethical requirements, and regulations at play here.

  • #138615
    Profile photo of Chris Poirier
    Chris Poirier

    it’s not just an issue of perception, there are laws about “endorsement” and it’s pretty clear in the regulations, etc that any form of advertising by the government would fall in this catagory. As mentioned above: Unfair Competitive Advantage and collection of funds issues.

  • #138613
    Profile photo of GovLoop

    I’d love to get a local person in here who does this for a living. I’ve heard there’s a position for this exact discussion at a lot of city/county government who is in charge of sponsorships (whether public transit or parks/etc). Would love to hear how they deal with intricacies.

  • #138611
    Profile photo of Jeff Friedman
    Jeff Friedman

    Yes – governments should do this! Cities revenue sources are dwindling and taxpayers are tapped out – these kind of public/private partnerships are a great way to infuse new revenue sources. Cities can always control the type and placement of ads. And many governments are already doing this in other areas (street furniture, transit assets, naming rights, etc.)

  • #138609
    Profile photo of

    I vote for a pilot program with solid internal controls.

  • #138607
    Profile photo of Jeff Ribeira
    Jeff Ribeira

    I was thinking the same thing Colleen. This is also the main reason I can no longer fully trust many websites and publications when I want a fair and unbiased opinion on a particular product or service. While I’ve grown to accept this fact over the years among private companies, it just doesn’t seem right in the government space. It’s a slippery slope with some big risks.

  • #138605
    Profile photo of Ed Albetski
    Ed Albetski

    Any product should then have the right to advertise on a publicly owned site, shouldn’t it? Soon we might have pitches for Magnum condoms or Viagra or something skimpy made by Victoria’s Secret. Then some loudmouth busybody group will object and soon we’ll see yet another layer of bureaucracy emerging as we then create a committee to oversee the “correctness” of the ads. As with any good idea, we’ll start regulating it to death. It’s our nature.

  • #138603
    Profile photo of

    @Ed, That’s why I suggested a pilot program.

  • #138601
    Profile photo of

    I agree, Jeff. Many would try to abuse the privilege. That’s why I suggested a pilot. The whote thing could be called off if it didn’t work.

  • #138599
    Profile photo of GovLoop

    It’s a fun conversation.

    I’d take a step back and look at all of the assets the city/county/state/agency has.

    Then perhaps a matrix:

    -What assets have biggest potential revenue with advertising?

    -What would be the most / least intrusive (or pick word for it – but basically feels acceptable vs wrong/lame/etc)?
    -What type of advertising are we okay with (for-profit ads, non-profit ads, just govt, etc)

    And then prioritize and pilot

    -Naming a public building like a stadium – Ford Amphiteatre = Chevy City Hall – I’d say huge revenue, super queasy/lame
    -DMV – ads on TVs and bathrooms – Medium revenue, low on quesiness

    Tons of assets – from city benches/bus stops/etc, online assets (web, email, Twitter, FB, etc), public areas (parks, sitting areas at DMV and public places), print assets (property tax statements, print newsletters, etc), city-owned vehicles, etc

  • #138597
    Profile photo of Chris Poirier
    Chris Poirier

    This is actually part of my previous point: As the federal government we would have to allow all types of advertising in order to not violate existing law and regulation. The process could not work at the federal level without a completely open process for advertising, you could probably have “controls” but we could not turn away a company, organization, etc. Any other option would be open to argument and legal action by organizations “rejected”. Unlike state and local government, the federal government’s reach and impact is nationwide. Therefore any rejection would bring immediate legal claims as we would be restricting a nationwide audiance. (this in fact is the reason state local governments have less controls over advertising, limited audiance impact…federal government has controls due to the amount of people that cound be influenced by federal action..hence the existing laws and regulations on such things.)

  • #138595
    Profile photo of Ari Herzog
    Ari Herzog

    It depends on the company or service being advertised.

    For a city, local companies are out due to bias. For a state, anyone receiving earmarks is out. For a country, there would have to be rotation if the field is small.

    Bias is key. Favoritism can not be perceived.

  • #138593
    Profile photo of Denise Petet
    Denise Petet

    Even ignoring the ethics and rules about favoritism and such, this is a massive can of worms from a technical point of view. I know someone that manages a large forum and it has ads. He has a personal standard of ‘keep it PG’ and so tells the ad company (google ads i believe) what kinds he does/doesn’t want….ie no viagra, no dating sites, etc.

    Even with that, not a week goes by that there’s not a ‘mistake’. Ads that slip in there that simply aren’t appropriate. It’s a scifi site so it’s a good place for ‘next big movie’ ads….which people hate because they’re massive flash ads that take over half the page with sound or roll down images. I personally block the ads on the site after getting one that tried to install browser hijack software because the ads had either been hacked or the ad company just wasn’t paying attention. Any gov site would be a ripe target for hackers looking to either get personal info or to launch a virus. And your security is only as good as the ad company you use.

    In addition, large chunks of this country don’t have access to high speed internet, or simply cannot afford it…but adding ads to a site also adds download time because many content creators have long since lost the art of ‘streamlining’ ads (they make and show them on nice fast computers with T1 lines so 800K loads in a heartbeat for them…takes a minute or two if you’re on dialup, something to consider if you’re a government site that needs to be as accessible as possible in addition to meeting federal regs on ADA). Also, many web pages are configured that the ad must load first, then page content…and ad companies have a reputation of using the cheapest servers they can get, which are also slow ones. So you stand the potential of your whole page load time doubling or tripling because of any ads. (Not to mention do you want a site with an expected atmosphere of dignity and officiality looking like

    The only way any agency could adequately control it would be to administer it themselves….hire or contract out the salespeople, the graphic designers, etc…which will pretty much negate any funds you raise from said ads.

    Even if you choose the ‘hire it out but have a person overseeing all content’ route, you’ll still have that salary of a person to pay, which will again eat up the ad revenue.

    Internet advertising may look, on teh surface, like a quick buck, but it’s not something to be entered into lightly. Depending on the contract, you get pennies per view (each person that sees the ad) a few more if they actually follow the link and go elsewhere. Take a look at how many unique visitors your site gets each day, and then factor in how many internet users that use ad block software and then know that it’s pennies per ad…chances are the reality is that it’ll cost more than it’ll make, and that’s without even considering which ads to allow and if you can have ads on your site that may not be ADA complient.

  • #138591

    Let’s imagine this for a sec

    FEC website with Stephen Colbert’s SUPERPAC ad.

    Chevron’s “Hydrofracking is GOOD and SAFE” on the EPA website.

    AT&T Ad on the website asking for public comment about the merger

    Bailbond Agency on the city police website

    The list on why this is a bad idea goes on

  • #138589
    Profile photo of GovLoop

    I really like this point. Especially the issue of what it takes to hire and administer it.

    My sense if I was a local agency – do a few big packages that are integrated (across buses, parks, online) of high-brow sponsors.

  • #138587
    Profile photo of Kristy Dalton
    Kristy Dalton

    I’ve been working on a video exploring both sides of the issue since I saw that article =) Of course it will have a humorous/satirical spin, but I’ll incorporate some of the ideas I read here! Thanks for talking about this issue.

  • #138585
    Profile photo of Kristy Dalton
    Kristy Dalton

    Famous last words before the judge at a first amendment violation hearing, “It was just a pilot program, so we’re not really in trouble, right?”


  • #138583
    Profile photo of Jason Hibbets
    Jason Hibbets

    I’m not sure I’m making the connection with accepting ad revenue (a source of income) with gov’t being in the business to make money (only a tax collector and spender). I’m not diagreeing that by opening the door for ads, you many confuse the end user with what’s legitimate information and what’s an ad, I’m just saying that an ad, or even a sponsor, is an interesting consideration to support a gov’t program or site as opposed to having tax payers dollars as the sole income source.

    I think users can clearly make the distinction between an ad and a search result on Google, so there is a clever and clear way to approach something like this.

    Also, just like any magazine or publication, the publisher decides which ads run. I’m sure there could be some curation of which ads would be posted and which ones would not. I’m not envisioning a free-for-all Google Ads approach where the highest bidder get’s the keywords.

    But then again, I’m new to this world and speaking mostly as a citizen, and not a govie.


  • #138581
    Profile photo of Dennis Snyder
    Dennis Snyder

    On a more personal level, as a government employee I’m bound by ethics regulations that prohibit conflict of interest. When a conflict arises I must identify the issue and recuse myself. As was recently pointed out by a presidential candidate, corporations are people too.

    The pandora’s box is more extensive than just corporations. Think about religious groups and their tax advantages. Advertisers with products counter to government public image like tobacco and alcohol products. Controversial subjects that would appear to have been PAC influenced like gun manufacturers and prescription medications.

    My proposal is that if an agnecy accepts advertising then that company and all linked advertisers are prohibited from contracting with that agency to preclude any appearance of favoritism.

  • #138579
    Profile photo of Kirsten Burgard
    Kirsten Burgard

    If we used Google ads as the mechanism for placing ads, that’d be no, you don’t get a choice. Mostly, that’s due to the behavioral algorithm used to place ads. Take a look at blogs, the ones with google ads are often a very odd mix of ads, based on the user. And few sites, other than blogs, have ads. Most sites are ads in and of themselves.

    For more on behavioral advertising head over to

  • #138577
    Profile photo of Jon Hale
    Jon Hale

    We have examples in the UK of carrying advertising e.g. Met Office and Norfolk.

    An interesting slant on this is the use of social media sites such as Facebook by .gov(&.gov uk) organisations.

    These pages are carrying adverts, but they’re not receiving the revenue from them and have no editorial control of what appears.

  • #138575
    Profile photo of Colleen Ayers
    Colleen Ayers

    I think the difference here is that social media sites like Facebook are a wider media forum – a user isn’t “going to” facebook to get government info, but instead are “bringing” government info into their facebook page. Or another analogy – an agency posting on facebook is like a government agency submitting a column to a newspaper. The readers all (mostly) understand that the MEDIA (ie facebook, twitter) is sponsoring the ads, not the government.

  • #138573
    Profile photo of Dan Schramm
    Dan Schramm

    Our firm, Municipal Media Solutions (MMS) does this full-time. We act on behalf of government agencies on a revenue share basis. The government agency gets roughly 60-65 cents on each dollar while we retain 30-35 cents on each dollar. MMS provides all the ad serving software, we work with your internal IT staff (or web developer) to embed the ad tags on where you (or the government site) wants ads placed, we do all the sales, we priice the ads (typically on a CPM basis – or cost per thousand views), we collect the money, we provide a monthly check with an audited report to the goverment agency on what was viewed, served, etc. All ads are approved by a respective contact at each government agency before they are served. So there are no surprises. We can restrict the type of ads (and industries that are available to run ads). So no alcohol, tobacco, etc (and even in the case of the Cook County Assessor – they restrict ads for lawyers since they accept appeal filings from lawyers and do not want any perceived conflict of interest). We will not work with a government agency unless they pass a local ordinance that stipulates who/what can advertise on that respective government site. So this provides the government site with cover. We operate under one to three year contracts (renewable with ability to cancel with 60 day notice for any reason – on both sides) and we indemnify the government agency that we are operating on behalf of.

    Either Bob Hoyler (CEO), Matt Fisher (Sales Director) or I can provide you with further information on how your goverrnment agency can explore both online website advertising, as well as embedded ads within emails. If you are .gov extension site there are restrictions as mentioned in the article (for now). However most government agencies are actually .com, .org or .us type extensions and can do what they want readily.


    Dan Schramm

    Municipal Media Solutions

    676 North LaSalle – Suite 213

    Chicago, IL 60654

    (312) 640-9540 (Office)

  • #138571
    Profile photo of GovLoop

    Very cool Dan. What can an average municipality see in revenue per year? Say a 100,000 population county or city?

  • #138569
    Profile photo of Carol A. Spencer
    Carol A. Spencer

    Legislation has been proposed in NJ to allow advertising on government websites (A3955). The proposed legislation would allow private companies to “lease” space on our websites. The private company’s costs would be deducted from the contractual amount they agree to pay the local government. The private company would be able to sell the advertising space for whatever $$ they could. The state would regulate what types of ads could be placed on government sites. The net? Government makes a few $$, probably offset by the costs of managing the advertising. Private company makes a lot.

    I see myriad problems with this. Who will place the ads on the site? If the private company, this becomes a security risk by providing an outside entity with access to our hosting company servers. We don’t have the staff or time to do this. Who will police ad appropriateness and accessibility? Who will field consumer complaints? How will taxpayers feel about taxpayer-funded infrastructure being used to benefit private advertisers? How is this different from putting a billboard (ad) on the statehouse (taxpayer funded infrastructure)?

    How will mobile be handled (especially as mobile access grows)… the screen real estate is so small… will we need to allocate a portion of it to ads?

    What will the impact be on local government sites that use .gov addresses, but in states where advertising on government sites is not permitted?

    When anti-Chris Christie ads showed up on one of the services we use, it took a nano-second for the complaints to start rolling in. We’re his home county. There was nothing I could do to control the ads and they clearly popped up more often because we ARE his home county.

    I am personally very opposed to ads on government websites, whether .gov or any other TLD.

  • #138567
    Profile photo of Richard Wong
    Richard Wong

    Personal injury lawyer ads on NHTSA’s auto defect reporting website

    LightSquared ads on the FCC’s site with a click-thru link to send the FCC a petition

    Mortgage brokers on HUD’s website

    Sturm-Ruger sponsoring BATF’s site

    Drug companies on FDA’s site lobbying for speedy approvals

    Matthew Lesko on

  • #138565
    Profile photo of Dan Schramm
    Dan Schramm

    It all comes down to their site activity per month (page views) and (if they are doing canned email responses or newsletters) how many go out per month.

    So Cook County Assessor (which gets 3MM up to 4.5MM page views per month) and sends out about 20000 notice emails per month currently gets anywhere from $7000 to $8000 per month (their take). Again the program is fairly new (a little over a year they’ve been up and running). Our goal is to get them up to about $10000-$12000 per month.

    Expectations to start (for at least the first six months) have to be realistic since it takes time to get the word out to the local community (which is the best advertiser for a local county, city, township type site). So while it will not necessarily plug any sort of budget gap, it does bring in revenue that is not on the backs of taxpayers and it actually indirectly promotes local businesses who elect to advertise (which in turn keeps sales taxes spent locally).

  • #138563
    Profile photo of Elizabeth Hochberg
    Elizabeth Hochberg

    Hi all,

    I’m about to burst everyone’s bubbles. I’ve read through the entire 4 pages of comments and unfortunately the WSJ doesn’t understand federal appropriations and ethics laws. There is absolutely no way, at least on the executive branch side, that we could have commercials advertisements on .govs. I’m one half of the legal team at GSA that spends considerable time negotiating out all advertisement language from all the apps on (have you ever noticed there are no ads on a properly-registered Facebook page or YouTube Channel?) Here’s the legal heavy:

    The Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch preclude employees from doing anything that could reasonably be construed to imply that an agency or the Government sanctions or endorses any product, service or enterprise except in very limited circumstances not applicable here. Placing vendor ads on agency websites could be viewed as an agency or Government sanction or endorsement of that product or service and, as such, would run afoul of these Standards. Moreover, vendors may not refer to our use of their product or service in any commercial advertising or similar promotions in a manner that states or implies that the product or service being used is endorsed or preferred by the Federal Government, or that the Federal Government considers it to be superior to other products or services. The intent of this policy is to prevent the appearance of Federal Government bias toward any product or service.

    Additionally, as others have mentioned, we would all have to get specific authority from Congress to retain the revenue raised from ads because as it stands now, absent specific authority, that revenue is an augmentation of each agency’s appropriation and thus must be handed back over to Treasury. To keep the funds would mean an agency had received more money than Congress appropriated them to use and had run afoul of the intent of the appropriators.

    Sorry to be a wet blanket, as some in the media have called me when I’ve been a speaker at conferences. But the WSJ got it wrong. Absent specific legislation, (and throwing aside all competitions laws), we cannot accept ad revenue from private companies.

  • #138561
    Profile photo of GovLoop

    Great answers.

    Does that apply to all .govs? Or just federal .govs?

    Honestly, I see this happening more at state and local levels than federal.

  • #138559
    Profile photo of Chris Poirier
    Chris Poirier

    Well said, this is what I meant, but you put it much better!!

  • #138557
    Profile photo of Chris Poirier
    Chris Poirier

    The rules she is speaking to are specific to the federal government.

    State and locals have obviously gotten past a lot of these issues in the naming of buildings, bus stop ads, etc as you have pointed out.

    In fact, the Zappos ad you mention seems ripe for a potential challenge, but airports are tricky beasts..and TSA’s presence is often complicated and dictated down to an insane micro level.

  • #138555
    Profile photo of Hope OKeeffe
    Hope OKeeffe

    Thanks, Beth. This advice, of course, applies only to federal websites and not those operated by state and local governments — but even states, counties, and municipalities are subject to the restrictions on .gov sites. The advice to circumvent those restrictions by automatically redirecting to a .com — doing indirectly what we can’t do directly — gives me the willies. There are reasons for the restrictions, well articulated by Beth and the other commenters on this thread: the need to preserve the principle that our governments are not for sale.

  • #138553
    Profile photo of Deena Larsen
    Deena Larsen

    We already have to be very very careful about the appearance of government endorsement. (I can not even mention a product by name in reports, etc.).

    So how would this work with advertising? What would the impressions be?

  • #138551
    Profile photo of Richard Wong
    Richard Wong

    There’s a fine line between an amenity offered to the general public (e.g. airport security trays, bus stop benches, train station kiosks) and official government property (websites, office buildings, uniforms). With the former, the private sector is free to sponsor or provide the benefit and to get a little recognition in return. With the latter, however, government must be diligent to avoid the appearance of an official endorsement.

    And there’s also a difference between an official government office buildings (such local post offices) and government-supported facilities (such as sports stadia or arenas). The former tend to be named after government officials or public figures, while the latter feature the names of commercial advertisers. Otherwise, can you imagine a Viagra-sponsored Washington Monument or the Maidenform Grand Tetons?

  • #138549
    Profile photo of Richard Wong
    Richard Wong

    Our agency has engaged in legislatively-mandated research on specific commercial products, where referring to the product by name is virtually impossible in the report. Instead, we place a disclaimer on the cover page – large enough to warn the reader, but worded carefully as not to offend the vendor’s Congressional sponsor.

  • #138547
    Profile photo of Kevin Lanahan
    Kevin Lanahan

    Advertising on any state or federal .gov would be a very bad idea. Most government agencies regulate businesses. Allowing those businesses to advertise on those sites would be a conflict of interest, as many have already pointed out., brought to you by HR Block? DOT, sponsored by Toyota?

    I’d worry about pulling in ads from advertisers servers and the possibility of introducing security problems through rogue ads. Unless the government agencies wanted to run their own ad servers, which would just add to the cost of government.

    I’d almost give a pass to local governments, because they could use the revenue, but it’s just not a good idea to let them use a .gov to host advertising.

    Our tourism and state parks sites in Missouri are .coms. Tourism has some subtle ads, but they are economic development and it doesn’t seem as sleazy if they are promoting Missouri business. State parks does not have ads, but they do allow business listings for businesses along trails.

  • #138545
    Profile photo of Gov Girl
    Gov Girl

    I guess I have a bigger problem with this all together – fiscal management. If I saw ads on an official government document (which a website IS), it says to me that that governmental body is not able to manage/budget their funds to perform their base functionality and must resort to cheapening itself and its constituents to do so.

    People must interract with government agencies – its a necessity. I feel we are taking advantage of that position by taking ad money for it. We also cheapen our authority, message and mission with the ads. It is distracting from the official business we are tasked to do.

    What if you got a court order, with an ad for at the bottom?

    Should the police cars have ad tents on the top, like cabs?

    Should your building permit include an ad box for Lowes on it?

    Ads just lessen users confidence in that entity and degrades its authority. If you see an official site with ads on it, don’t you look twice to make sure you have the right site and not a spoof? How much confidence does that instill in this agency? It makes me feel that this web site is not important to this agency.

    I think the better effort to make (rather than all the research, policy massaging and legal ping-pong) is to look at what actions are a priority to your agency. If a web site is important (or mandated) then you must account for that funding appropriately in your budget planning. Web sites are no longer fringe activity – they are necessity. Know the costs of the site you want. Update your budget to properly fund it!

    (getting off soapbox)

  • #138543
    Profile photo of Shivraj Asthana
    Shivraj Asthana

    Not sure where the argument to shore up revenue with ads would finally lead to. Would this create a potential of spawning a new breed of lobbyists who may start “influencing” the content (read policy) displayed on the website using their advert budgets?

    Unlikely? Not really, if the purpose of allowing ads is to create revenue and not just spread public awareness!

    Then there is, of course, the minefield of “tacit” approval of the government of the products/services being selected and advertised!

  • #138541
    Profile photo of Steven Green
    Steven Green

    This is a fascinating conversation we have at work every day – I’m the guy who introduced banner display areas across Government of Ontario websites here in Ontario – (check out for an example or any ministry site) – we essentially installed a private-sector compatible ad banner system to help us deploy, monitor, and measure “ad” spaces across our sites as a test and with some very important caveats: We don’t accept any outside advertisements or charge for use of the space at all – we centrally determine rotations and approve creative and for now, it’s seen mostly as a way to extend existing campaign creative tied to our “traditional” marketing and television advertising, etc. We also used it to reduce overall clutter by restricting campaign “buttons” and other quick hits to a single rotating space vs. the “button clutter” problem we once had across all sites.

    We’ve found some interesting uses for these ad spaces in gov – for example, programs across the Ontario public sector have a new ability to showcase programs and initiatives to a wider audience – otherwise not be possible due to the tight constraints most government advertising campaigns have… especially in this day and age! Easier to reach a million people across existing Ontario gov sites for free than pay for private-sector advertising to reach the same target in some cases.

    Interestingly, we also discovered that overall CTR is higher than industry average – we attribute this success to the fact that the ads we place are context specific, i.e. a gov ad related to the gov content and site you’re on.

    We also discovered a lot of people ignore the older horizontal banner sizes as much as they do on any other site – so “banner blindness” continues to apply into gov.

    I’ve had a couple interesting discussions with areas of gov that would like to use this space for “true” paid advertising. A lot of questions around “if we did it in the printed brochure, why can’t we do it on the associated website?” which is a good question – so far it’s been viewed as too complicated financially (as per the discussions here around how gov can “make” money which becomes a “tax” versus a service fee, etc…) as well as the various optics problems associated with promoting private-sector goods and services and the gov’s obligation to not favour one over another…

    I can’t wait to see where this conversation goes as I do believe there are more ways we could maximize this approach to delivering content — and the private sector implications are fascinating for gov, including how mobile advertising is evolving — but for now, I think govs should at least explore adopting an approach to content design and layout to better understand what messages work best in what format as a solid start.

    If anyone has any thoughts or would like to have a deeper conversation, always interested! Hit me up.

  • #138539
    Profile photo of GovLoop

    Love the real-world case study.

    Couple questions:

    -How was the feedback both internally? And with citizens?

    -Love the idea that mostly .gov ads – what’s the breakdown and main types of advertisers outside .govs?

    -Have you done any ROI calculation? For example, took 1/2 FTE plus X, Y cost and brought in $200k

  • #138537
    Profile photo of Edward Brigham
    Edward Brigham

    In general, there should not be advertising on government websites. Those websites are for doing the public business and and providing public information, both of which are inherently non-commercial activities. Accepting commercial advertising puts governments in the business of making choices about what advertising to accept or, if based solely on who pays the most, potentially accepting patently false or harmful advertising. Then, there are all sorts of freedom of speech issues. How can a government website not accept all advertising requests it receives?

    The one exception I can understand is on a separate website of a state or local government service such as public transit or local utility (I.e., water or electricity). The argument for those activities (public utilities) is that the private sector will not provide the service or cannot do so without costly and inefficient duplication. Such advertising should not be on the general website of the government running the public utility.

    Some might argue that providing space for non-commerical (e.g., nonprofit) advertising is allowable because it often provides valuable information to the public. If it’s non-commercial and valuable information for the public, then government websites shouldn’t be charging for it. Getting the information to citizens is the right reason for posting it, not the income.

    Yes, my views are idealistic or “purist”, and there will be many pressures to accept advertising. This is about keeping the correct distinction between government responsibilities and private enterprise.

    Ed Brigham

  • #138535
    Profile photo of Denise Petet
    Denise Petet

    What I could see working on federal government sites are ‘ads’ for their own services and other agencies….such as on the IRS site:

    ‘Are you eligible for earned income credit? click here for more info’

    ‘Do you need to e-file, click here for a list of providers’

    etc…and have those links go to other pages on the site.

    Maybe not advertising per se, but putting hot topics and highly demanded areas of the site as a series of simple rotating banner ads to maybe help people find stuff that might not be so easy to find.

    In another way, cross promote. Have a National Parks banner on other federal sites, that simply leads to the national parks site. If, and I don’t know if it does this, but if you’re on the INS site and they have a list of attorneys that specialize in naturalization, then an ‘ad’ that goes to that list.

    Basically use simple graphics to illustrate or emphasize parts of the site that people might need or might find hard to find.

  • #138533
    Profile photo of Colin Walker
    Colin Walker

    I’ve been immersed in this issue since early this year. Municipal park and recreation departments have long published program brochures, and it seems that more and more are selling advertising in the publications to fund production. As we move into the new reality of trimmed budgets, and make tough choices on whether to continue or eliminate programs and services, advertising is one of the areas that is cut first. Unfortunately, cutting advertising – as expected – frequently results in decreasing revenue.

    In an effort to mitigate cuts to our internal advertising/print budget, we’ve made significant shifts in information dissemination – the number of issues of program brochures have been reduced, the print run has been scaled back, and we are relying more on email distribution of information. On one hand, budget challenges have forced us to be more innovative (I now have an e-newsletter that goes out to 21k+ people every month, and have the ability to do targeted email advertising), but on the other hand, the concerns about the digital divide are amplified even more.

    Early this year, we began to craft a policy regarding advertising in our program brochure. What we found was that there are many good examples of government advertising policies out there, and it’s in our best interests to develop a solid policy and implementation procedure before accepting advertisements. We are developing the policy for print advertising so that it would be fairly easy to adjust to include web advertising.

    While I do not know if print advertising and web advertising are one in the same when looking at case law, I do know that there is a solid foundation of case law dealing with what governments can and cannot do when setting policies for print advertising (“print” being broadly defined as ink on media – this could be the side of buses, magazines, transit benches, etc). The danger is whether by accepting advertisements you create a public forum… it is more desirable to create a limited public forum, and your policy will help ensure you don’t set yourself up for having to accept advertisements from everyone.

    Our specific question was related to potential “competitors” buying advertising in our program brochure. For example, we run a fitness center at a community center — what if a commercial fitness center wanted to buy advertising? Would we have to accept it? The answer was “yes.” We can limit advertising in the publications based on content (no political advertising, no issue-based advertising, commercial only, no adult topics, no alcohol/tobacco/firearms, no illegal content, etc.), but cannot restrict types of vendors.

    We’ve discussed exploring whether advertisements could be added to our website, and our thought is that eventually we will probably have to address that. We’re not there yet, though, and would rather have others develop policies and test them in court.

    I’d be interested in hearing from any legal-minded folks reading this thread how analogous print advertising policies are to web advertising policies – does case law relating to limited public forums translate to electronic media? Are there any issues if we were to implement advertising, contract with a third party vendor, and have non-permissable content slip through? I’d be hesitant to contract with a third party for the specific reason that “non-PG” ads frequently slip through on sites.

  • #138531
    Profile photo of William Manthorpe
    William Manthorpe

    No advertising on government sites. Indeed, there should not be any on GovLoop either. Check out my website If we are trying to make a contribution to public service then it should be a “contribution”. And the cost to maintain a website is small enough.

  • #138529
    Profile photo of Dale S. Brown
    Dale S. Brown

    I think it is a big mistake to allow advertising on government websites. Chris Poirier pointed out that there are regulatory and legal reasons. But advertisements will cause the agency to loose the perception of evenhandedness- and possibly even be influenced by the advertisers. Especially if the crowd that wants government to be run like a business decides that the web should be self-supporting and get a portion of their financing from the ads.

  • #138527
    Profile photo of Jenny Groome
    Jenny Groome

    loose any credibility to site (no matter HOW good the information is) -

  • #138525
    Profile photo of Dan Schramm
    Dan Schramm

    Government entities are elected by their local constituents and have a responsibility to explore this issue (like others) particularly in these trying financial times where key staff/services are being cut and costs to maintain/enhance and host such websites are rising.

    The benefits and risks can be weighed accordingly by each entity and each have the opportunity to have their citizens respond/weigh in on the issue. Remember there are risks in everything a government entity undertakes. Gauging and measuring the probability of such risks is something that only each entity can do as they analyze the costs and related benefits.

    Credibility is in the eye of the beholder. What you see as losing credibility may be viewed by another constituent or local business owner as a great way to promote goods/services to their local community in a cost effective manner while indirectly spurring local sales which in turn keeps sales taxes local within that community/area. Plus if the advertisements do not affect the viewers user experience and navigation then it puts the onus on the viewer whether they elect to even pay attention much less click on an ad if interested.

    If an entity elects to go forward on this matter, then passing a local ordinance on what is allowed/not allwowed (tobacco/alcohol/political ads/non-profits/etc) is something we recommend. This dictates the policy on online advertising (or modifying an existing policy that might already be in place for kiosk/bus stop/bus/etc advertising).

    The ordinance typically follows form on court upheld restrictions on select types of advertising that governments can restrict (alcohol, tobacco, etc and even on all non-profits so you don’t have religious, political, etc come into play).

  • #138523
    Profile photo of Dan Schramm
    Dan Schramm

    Initiatives on government advertising continue. City of Chicago goes out for RFQ.

    Emanuel looks to attract more advertising: City offers marketers space on trash cans, website, water bills…111126,0,2474380.story
    Emanuel looks to attract more advertising
    City offers marketers space on trash cans, website, water bills
    By Kristen Mack, Chicago Tribune reporter
    November 26, 2011
    Mayor Rahm Emanuel not only wants to sell ad space on bridge houses and
    trash cans, he’s looking at stuffing corporate fliers in water bills,
    selling exclusive vending rights at city facilities and allowing promotional
    sponsorships of public programs.
    As part of the mayor’s 2012 budget plan to raise $25 million from marketing
    the city, the Emanuel administration put out a call for marketing firms to
    help the city identify opportunities and negotiate contracts with potential
    The goal is “generating the maximum value for the City’s corporate fund
    operating budget while limiting the social impacts of such advertising
    activities, including visual pollution, and preserving the continuity and
    integrity of the City’s image,” according to the request for proposals
    posted on the city’s website last week.
    That website, by the way, is among the public spots where people may one day
    find advertisers competing for their attention. So are street sweepers,
    snowplows, buildings, overpasses and traffic control boxes on sidewalks.
    All of which worries observers who were upset at Emanuel’s first try at
    generating ad revenue earlier this month by leasing space on the historic
    Wabash Avenue bridge houses over the Chicago River.
    The result was red, white and blue signs for Bank of America stuck on to the
    limestone walls, where they will remain through Dec. 12. The city says it
    made $4,500 from the deal, but critics said it was an assault on Chicago’s
    architectural heritage.
    The lack of standards suggests that “anything is fair game,” said Jean
    Follett, interim executive director of Landmarks Illinois.
    “Whatever you ask we’ll negotiate it,” Follett said. “We’ve put ourselves in
    a corner; what you get instead of tax increases is fees and ads in your
    public spaces and in your water bills.”
    The city solicitation, which is only the initial step in the marketing
    plans, breaks public assets into six categories, including physical
    property, vending and product licensing, mail and the city’s website. It
    offers little guidance on how to differentiate between the value of a trash
    can and public landmarks.
    “The Mayor and his administration are exploring any and all innovative
    options that will bring new revenue into the City to avoid reductions in
    services the City delivers and any additional financial strains on Chicago
    taxpayers,” Lois Scott, the city’s chief financial officer, said in a
    statement responding to questions about the plans. “The city has numerous,
    diverse places and things to market, and we’re ready to work together under
    the right set of guidelines to market what Chicago has to offer.”
    Former Mayor Richard Daley first proposed the idea of allowing corporate ads
    on bridge houses. The head of the company that won the resulting contract to
    market the bridge houses – leading to the recent bank ad – said the city can
    make money while protecting its landmarks.
    “The overall impact of the concept in the long run needs to be sensitive to
    the needs of the city and maintain its architectural integrity,” said
    Phillip Lynch, president and owner of Lincolnshire-based Fresh Picked Media.
    “There’s pop art type executions that don’t have to be as direct as
    advertising and are clever and add a theme.”
    Companies that sell breath fresheners could erect ads outside of
    restaurants, Lynch said, and gray traffic light boxes could be turned into
    gift boxes for the holidays.
  • #138521
    Profile photo of Dan Schramm
    Dan Schramm

    State of Washington Department of Transportation has launched online ads off their travel pages website (they already have ads on their ferry boats).

  • #138519
    Profile photo of Dan Munz
    Dan Munz

    No no no no no no no. Not because of endorsement or authority or anything like that, but because having to sell ad space makes you do ridiculous things like forced interstitials, purposeless pagination, bizarre “slideshows,” and generally a bunch of other user-hostile pageview-maximizing techniques. Making federal websites that don’t suck for users is hard enough without financial incentives pointing in the opposite direction.

  • #138517
    Profile photo of Ron Murphy
    Ron Murphy


  • #138515
    Profile photo of Sterling Whitehead
    Sterling Whitehead

    While it rubs me the wrong way to do this, I would support it with the restriction that all funding be directed at paying off the federal debt.

  • #138513
    Profile photo of Jenny Groome
    Jenny Groome

    I agree – except one point – many websites for users do not suck. And users are so varied – sometimes helps to differentiate presentation of information. One landing page, sure – one site, perhaps not in best interest of anyone.

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