Fake News: Problematic Placements in PPC
Fake news sites have become a galvanizing force for advertisers and agencies that haven’t been paying too much attention to where their ads are showing up.
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What is “fake news?” It’s sensationalist, tabloid, opinion, and mostly untrue content portrayed as news or newsworthy, making it highly share-able for susceptible users on social media. Under the guise of journalistic, factual reporting, fake news often works to purport a certain ideology or narrative regardless of the facticity of its arguments and research.
If you’re already an expert or want to test your understanding, you can attempt BBC’s quiz.
The recent proliferation of the term might be associated with U.S. president Donald J. Trump’s utterance, “You’re fake news!” at his first press conference. The proposition lit the media ablaze and the buzzword that had had some traction on the tail end of 2016 was soon, and is still, a common accusation against legitimate and illegitimate news sources alike in 2017.
Problematic for Advertisers
Many advertisers tend to avoid associating their ads with political ideologies and strong political opinions to keep their brands desirable across the political spectrum.
Fake news, often explicitly political, burdens unscrupulous advertisers because it can create problematic if not offensive brand messaging for consumers that find their favorite energy drink on a terrorist recruitment forum, white supremacist paraphernalia shop, or a misogynistic media movement. Pagan Kennedy, in The New York Times, warns that
“Many organizations have no idea that their ads may end up next to content they find abhorrent.”
Why the consumer is on that particular forum is another question, but if she’s notably perplexed or confused by the promotion, she might share that ad placement with her friends, or worse, her social media following.
The most alarming thing about fake news is that public cash also pays for its proliferation as unassuming organizations such as charities, government-funded programmes, and universities fuel fake news sites with their advertising dollars.
The Times reports that some of these organizations were even “inadvertently funding Islamic extremists and white supremacists” by advertising on their sites.
Kennedy reveals how one particular network of fake news proliferators profited off of their untruths:
“Mr. Coler and his team stage-crafted their sites to look like local newspapers and then planted fantastical headlines and fictional stories that attracted more than a million views … he intimated that his revenues ranged between $10,000 and $30,000 a month.”
It’s unlikely that marketing teams or ad agencies actively seek out these sites for ad space, but the technology and networks that they use can place ads with indifference to site content.
Poor Ad Placements
Networks’ aim to use ad placement technology, sometimes referred to as programmatic media buying, to display advertisements in the right place and at the right time. However, if left unmanaged, the algorithms involved can have difficulty distinguishing the context of calculated ad placements, creating problematic rather than programmatic solutions.
Remarketing offers a simple model for understanding poor ad placements as its technology can potentially make a webstore visitor see advertisements for products she browsed earlier on various sites across the web. While attempting to keep a brand top of mind, a remarketing placement might create a negative experience when viewed on a site of ill repute.
Breitbart, the conservative media site priorly led by Steve Bannon, a senior strategist for the current U.S. administration, has become the epitome of fake news for some.
A crowdsourced, social media-driven, activist group, “Sleeping Giants,” has rallied Twitter users against Breitbart and the group’s contributors source brand placements on the site, hoping to encourage advertisers to pull their ads.
The company Workable, which sells recruiting software and advocates for workplace diversity, demonstrates how “Sleeping Giant’s” has discovered some of the extremes of problematic ad placements:
Moraitakis, Workable’s CEO, quickly responded, noting that his company would now opt out of the Breitbart ad space.
Fake News and PPC
Quality control plays a crucial part in successful PPC management and fake news must be filtered. We suggest that you review your ad placements, consulting with your marketing team or agency on what does and doesn’t meet your targeting criteria.
We’ve adopted a proactive strategy to combat fake news, using a list of poor or polarizing placements that we’ve compiled and continue to add to as a blanket fake news filter on all of our clients’ accounts (if any of our clients wish to advertise on these types of websites, they must let us know so that we can unblock these placements from their accounts).
In addition, we apply site category exclusions aggressively so that new sites that we haven’t specifically blocked are still filtered out of our clients’ ad placements.
Whether doing PPC yourself, in-house, or through an agency, make sure that your brand message isn’t compromised by fake news sites.
If you feel your PPC ads need to be filtered better, don’t hesitate to contact us.