As the media world continues to spin itself into a tizzy over discussions around what is or isn’t “fake news,” the advertisers who support much of that landscape are reaching for smelling salts over concerns their brands are going to appear on the sites of questionable standards. Those advertisers, it seems, don’t want to be associated with crap that winds up getting called out for being blatantly false and made up, nor do they want to appear alongside overtly racist takes on the day’s news.
For those of us who have been around for a few years, this is just the latest version of a very familiar concern.
Years ago, back when blogs were first starting to get big, there was lots of hand-wringing from advertisers who were taking part in networks like Google Adwords about where and when their ads were show up. There was all this inventory now that was seen as questionable, mostly because it came from non-professional sources and might contain opinions that GASP weren’t verified by a string of editors and other checks and balances.
That somewhat legitimate concern has resurfaced in the age of social networks, as advertisers worried their messages would appear alongside your racist uncle’s latest screed.
Neither of those sessions of fainting and worrying really amounted to much, though. There were a few boycotts or petitions here and there but there wasn’t a wholesale turn against a particular brand because their ads had shown up on some sketchy site.
This year is different, though. And that’s largely because this time it involves politics. If your brand is supporting a site that regularly trucks in fake news, conspiracy theories or anti-Semitic rants there’s a good change you’re going to face some blow-back from people who vehemently disagree with that site’s editorial perspective, such as it is.
But what all of these flare-ups have in common is that the advertisers are pointing their fingers at the technology responsible for the placement. It’s not their fault, it’s Adwords’. Or it’s Facebook’s. Or now it’s various networks and header bidding tools. Whatever the case, it’s not their fault, it’s the tech that places the ads.
That may be technically true, but it hints at bigger issues within the advertising industry. The reliance on dumb technology that doesn’t differentiate based on the quality or source of the content it’s placing ads agains. It just knows there’s X inventory available and it’s going to fill it with the available inventory of ads. If that’s the best the industry can do, that’s disappointing. But that’s the only way any sort of scale can be achieved, otherwise you have to go back to one-to-one buying or wait for a “premium” ad network to come along that includes only verified, trustworthy sources.
Until then, this will continue to be an issue. And it will likely be an issue for whatever technology comes next for the industry.