Brands must act on online ad safety; nothing else works

angry laptopBrand owners must take matters into their own hands to avoid the damaging misplacement of online advertising, and not rely on social media platforms, publishers or even the IAB to sort it out.

That is one of the key recommendations of a new Forrester report, “Finding Truth In The Misinformation Age”, which reveals more than half (51%) of UK adults believe that brands always know exactly which websites their ads appear on, yet most marketers have not got a clue.

The study claims that the monetisation of misinformation and disinformation content is a vicious cycle. And the open web is riddled with it; much of which the adtech industry makes easy to monetise. The report cites research which found that top brands spent $2.6bn in the past 12 months on news sites spreading misinformation via programmatic media.

Brand safety vendors are good at identifying baseline safety standards (such as violence or pornography), but not misinformation and disinformation, Forrester reckons. This category of content is harder to detect with automation because it is designed to look and sound credible.

However, organisations responsible for advertising industry standards are still playing catch-up.

For instance, the IAB Technology Lab recently introduced “ads.txt” to increase transparency in the inventory supply chain by ensuring ad inventory is only sold through sellers who have been identified as authorised. It is claimed that by creating an “ads. txt file” publishers have more control over who is allowed to sell ads on their app and helps prevent counterfeit inventory from being presented to advertisers.

But, according to Forrester, it is an unreliable stopgap measure that places the onus on publishers to create and update the file. It insists that an entry could indicate an existing or past relationship with a seller, or it could simply be untrue. Buyers can attempt to verify its accuracy by comparing ads.txt to the sellers.json entry; however, controversial publishers often have redacted entries.

The report gives the example of The US Department of the Treasury identifying NewsFront as a disinformation and propaganda outlet working with Russian Intelligence Services. Despite this, its ads.txt file shows Google, AOL, and PubMatic as authorised sellers.

Forrest reckons that the entire ad supply chain is at fault. No one player in the advertising supply chain can eradicate misinformation and disinformation from the advertising ecosystem on their own. Breakdowns happen at every point in the programmatic media process — from domain monetisation on the supply side to brand safety measures on the buy side.

In its current state, the advertising ecosystem incentivizes the creation and spread of misinformation and disinformation. In fact, it pays to create misinformation, and it is easy to start monetising a new domain.

The report details how one journalist got approval from several adtech partners to place ads on a site containing plagiarised content in days.

Andrew Serby, executive VP of strategy and marketing at Zefr, commented: “Unfortunately, misinformation has been proven as a common engagement strategy for some publishers and creators in the open web. It’s a systemic issue, as more engagement means more revenue from advertisers is funnelled to this content by the open web adtech supply chain.”

Meanwhile, social media algorithms actually amplify misinformation and disinformation, and the supply side looks the other way as more inventory means more monetisable impressions. It is not in the supplier’s financial interest to eliminate misinformation and disinformation from its inventory supply.

Forrester principal analyst Kelsey Chickering said: “Marketers can no longer afford to procrastinate on addressing the systemic misinformation problem. They should start by making changes to marketing strategy and brand safety measures to deliver a media strategy that is mindful — proactive, values-based, and innovative.

“Some 73% of B2C marketers say they actively manage their media plans to avoid misinformation sites as part of their brand safety and suitability strategy, yet 78% trust that social media platforms are implementing measures to ensure that their ad is not showing up adjacent to misinformation.

“To dismantle misinformation and disinformation, stop relying on other platforms and parties to keep you protected. Take matters into your own hands and start implementing brand safety measures, such as prebid requirements and informed inclusion/exclusion lists.”

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