Ad Observatory Methodology: Topics
C4D researchers develop topics by classifying ads with labels based on their text content as well as in consultation with subject area and language experts. Topics are designed to provide a broader understanding of the range of advertising content featuring a given topic that is available with a simple keyword search. Why don’t numbers add up? A single ad campaign may be classified with multiple topics.
For example, a search for the topic “immigration,” will return results with ads that mention “immigration” but also other phrases and terms, such as “sanctuary city” and “secure our border.” For this reason, total spend for the topic “immigration” will be larger than for a keyword search on “immigration." The key words for a given topic in English may or may not be direct translations in Spanish. While topics are parallel across languages, specific words and terms may vary.
Note: topic labels refer to text content of ads; they do not denote judgments about ad content. For example, the topic “disinformation” refers to ads that discuss disinformation, not ads that contain disinformation.
Because of the fast pace of elections and news cycles, topics are constantly evolving. C4D researchers routinely modify keywords and terms that are contained in topics, and may develop new topics as new themes arise in political advertising. Think of topics as a good place to start looking at a broad issue; you can then create specific searches using keywords to refine what you are looking for. For example, as of August 2022, the word “inflation,” which is a subset of the topic “economy,” is being used broadly in right-leaning organizations. A keyword search will tell you more specifically which organizations are using this term in their ads.
abortion: All forms of abortion, as well as discussions about morality and legality of abortion, as well as access to it.
addiction: Substance and gambling dependence.
dark money: Money in politics and social issues, specifically referring to spending from sources that are not disclosed in mandated campaign finance reporting.
democratic norms: Structures of democratic governments and societies; in particular, elections and voting procedures, freedom of the press, and the rule of law.
discrimination: Systemic or individual bias against individuals or groups on the based on their membership in a protected class.
disinformation: Discussion of the intentional and knowing spreading of false or misleading information.
donation: Solicitation of financial contributions to candidates or organizations that are not in exchange for goods or services.
economy: Fiscal and monetary policy, inflation, unemployment, and financial climate. This topic does not include discussion of individual financial circumstances, unless they are claimed to be representative of broader conditions.
education: K-12 public and and private schooling, as well as colleges and universities, including the costs associated with school, financial aid, and student loans.
election: Discussion of public elections for candidates and ballot measures, including federal, state, and local elections.
environmental protection: Covers climate change, environmental pollutants, protection, or threats to wilderness or the environment.
foreign policy: The U.S. government's relationship to other countries.
guns: Firearms, the second amendment, gun violence, and other safety and legal issues.
healthcare: Financial considerations around medical care, medical treatments, medical system as a whole, healthcare providers.
immigration: People moving between countries with the goal of settling permanently.
judicial branch: Federal, state, and local courts and judges.
Latino community: Including terms Hispanic, hispano/a, Latino/a, and Latinx.
law enforcement: Federal, state, and local police, as well as these bodies of governments’ administration of law enforcement.
national security: All aspects of physical and cyber national security.
Trump: Former president Donald J. Trump.
Ukraine: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and any other Ukrainian related content.
uncategorized: Content that is not tagged with any other topic.