First you thought your brand dollars were safe… then fake news happened
Ad advertisers grapple with the threat of fake news, columnist Melody Gambino offers tips on how you can protect your brand.
Fake news has been dominating the post-election political conversation in recent days. However, while the focus on fake news has been political, it extends far beyond. Brands are becoming nervous as they realize their ads may be appearing around narratives and articles promoting racism and hate speech.
Advertisers have every right to be concerned; the cost of an error in this arena can mount quickly, leading to a backlash and lost sales.
The recent presidential election created a nationwide awareness of fake news sites, but it’s something that’s been around for quite some time. It began with promotion from sites like Outbrain and Taboola which would create headlines seeming to be interesting news.
The concept is very similar to “clickbait.” Clickbait is web content that aims to increase advertising revenue by relying on sensational headlines to attract readers and increase site visits. These websites are often characterized as low-quality, and they’re mainly used to attract readers to click to view the content.
So now, our hardworking brands and marketers have spent countless hours crafting perfect omnichannel campaigns, only to find out the narrative was potentially wasted on a fake news impressions. What does this mean for brands?
A main contributor to this new dilemma is a lack of inventory transparency. This issue has long been a concern of advertisers and has risen almost 20 percent from 2014, according to eMarketer.
Angst is rising as well, with about 60 percent of ad agency professionals having concerns related to ad inventory quality.
The problem with fake news and fake news websites is their ability to fool your best brand safety protection providers. Yes, we know how to block harmful content like words that are clearly bad — hate speech, adult content and the like — but to avoid untruthful stories, we need to classify the accuracy of the content being presented.
Accuracy, as we’ve seen lately, is something you can argue about. For example, there’s a distinct difference between websites creating satirical articles and sites posting articles of pure fiction to promote their own agenda.
This issue points to a deeper level of keeping your brand safe — and an opportunity for your partners to offer protection. We’re now talking about the need to not only understand the content, but also how it relates to your audience engagement.
So how can you protect your brand?
Basically, you need the ability to go over the website your ads were served to and remove any fake news content URLs. But what will you do when there are simply far, far too many websites for this to be a practical solution? This is a dilemma in a programmatic world.
Here are some important tactics advertisers can take to help protect their brand from fake news:
• Use platforms that are proactively working to keep you safe — As Digiday’s Lucia Moses writes:
[blockquote] The role of ad tech here is tricky. Editorial judgment isn’t usually core to what these companies do — even Facebook, with its size, seems unwilling or [un]able to keep fake news from showing up in the news feed — and let’s face it, even those who hold extreme political views are consumers, too. [/blockquote]
Still, we are seeing some make strides to support brands. Digital ad network AppNexus, for example, cut off ads from so-called “alt-right” publisher Breitbart News, saying it violated its hate-speech rules. Such publisher-level exclusions can improve ad quality and help brands avoid fake news content.
• Blacklist clickbait websites at the page level — Advertisers can blacklist specific clickbait websites, allowing their advertisers to avoid fake news at the URL level. This is not a new thing, as most DSPs (demand-side platforms) offer tools such as whitelist, blacklist or keyword targeting solutions to protect brands.
Blacklists allow advertisers to specifically identify sites they absolutely do not want their ads to appear on. This can definitely help in keeping your brand safe.
However, keyword-specific blocking might be a problem for fake news satirical content, for example. Luckily, advertisers are able to solve this by using a data provider that can understand the connection between different keywords and ranking of those words.
• Constantly monitor the content you should avoid — Advertisers should understand the news website environment. The Onion, for example, presents articles that cover current events, both real and fictional, allowing its readers to understand the keywords used.
Some data providers can add fake keywords to existing custom keyword blacklisting segments. These segments can then be updated and monitored to maintain a dynamic brand-safe environment.
• Define and monitor your audience engagement with problematic content — Technological advancements give us the ability to “listen” to an audience’s online reactions to fake news and combine advanced data targeting to predict toxic content the advertiser should avoid.
These tools focus on the real burning issue of brand safety and allow advertisers to make a clear distinction between acceptable and damaging content — and, in some cases, predict damaging trends before they cause any harm.
Brand safety is a dynamic environment in which advertisers need to constantly monitor new content and define it according to their audience’s online behavior. There’s no on/off switch for brand safety.
Advertisers should look to set their own unique definitions of bad content to avoid it and leverage partners to constantly adapt to the changing marketplace. Remember that these definitions are dynamic, and you should look to pick a data provider that allows you to customize and dynamically define the problematic content to avoid.