Shazam for the Campaign Season? What You Can Learn From the Super PAC App and Ad Hawk


If you have a smartphone (and especially if you’re a music lover), you’ve probably used Shazam before. Just open the app anytime you’re listening to recorded music, and it will identify the artist and track within seconds.

Now imagine an app that does essentially the same thing, but with political advertisements instead of music. That app now exists thanks to two former students at MIT’s Media Lab who developed the Super PAC App, released last week.

The free iPhone app listens to political advertisements on television and identifies who paid for the ad and how much they’re spending on the campaign. The app also verifies the ad’s claims by pointing the app’s user to nonpartisan sources such as and Politifact.

Co-founder Dan Siegel explained in a CNN article that the app works via “audio fingerprinting.” When a user opens the app, it submits an audio sample of the campaign ad they’re currently viewing. Super PAC App then matches the audio samples against their database of political ads with the help of their partner TuneSat.
According to the app’s website: “The Super PAC App is a simple way for you, the voter, to bring transparency to the 2012 presidential campaign.”
The Super PAC App is currently only available for iOS. For Android users, the Sunlight Foundation has developed Ad Hawk, an app that similarly listens to political ads and tells the user who paid for them (also available for iOS). The main difference between the two is that the Super PAC App gives users four options to rate an ad: “Love,” “Fair,” “Fishy,” or “Fail.” Ad Hawk also provides a detailed blurb about the ad, while the Super PAC App points users to fact-checking sources. Both apps launched last Wednesday.

Whether these apps will actually bring transparency to the campaign season remains to be seen. Will people take the time to open the app each time a political ad runs? A recent Pew Internet study showed that 52% of all cell phone owners use their phones while watching television, and 38% of those do so to keep themselves occupied during commercials or breaks. This bodes well for Ad Hawk and the Super PAC App, especially as the campaign season ramps up and people become more engaged in politics.
At best, the new apps’ unique approach to fact-checking will encourage PACs to create ads that are transparent and truthful. In any case, curious voters now have a simple way to verify claims made by PAC advertisements. Download the apps for free in the App Store or Android Market.

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