Fake News

Brand Safety in the Age of Fake News

You don’t have to look far today to find an example of fake news and how damaging it can be. The only truth in fake news is that it can affect a brand just by mere association. Combine that with how more and more consumers are demanding social consciousness from the brands they prefer, and it can spell an overnight disaster that can seriously affect your bottom line.


This presents a significant challenge to major ad buyers who, in order to reach the scale of audience they require, often outsource their ad lists to companies that have a portfolio of millions of websites. The question is, ‘How do you maintain your audience reach without harming the brand’s reputation?’ It can be a serious issue. When the 2016 election season was in full swing, advertisers faced a major uproar as their advertisements were being placed next to YouTube channels that promoted hate speech and other offensive content. This caused brands like Verizon and Johnson and Johnson to suspend all advertising on the Google-owned video site.


Alt-right news organization Breitbart lost over 1,500 advertisers in a week’s time due to companies responding to social pressure. While it is fairly simple for a company to block a single high-profile site from displaying its ads, the fact remains that there are thousands of fake news sites, and more pop up every day.


When faced with protecting a brand in today’s online ad world, the solution is not simply losing brand control when achieving scale. Here are three steps to maximize scale while maintaining your brand.


1. Demand Transparency


The first way to step up and maintain, or even regain control, of your ad space is by demanding full transparency from your ad platform. While it’s easy to show you lists of all the best ad publishers, that’s not usually a complete roster of all its websites. Even if you aren’t going to scour the list of potentially millions of websites, your platform should be comfortable with giving you that data.


2. Your Whitelist Is the Key


It can seem like a simple solution — just blacklist all the sites that are less than desirable and maintain your scale. The truth is that it’s nearly impossible to blacklist all the potentially negative sites out there. Even if you can, it’s a situation you must remain on top of from day one, and that’s a stop-gap option at best.


Instead of removing sites you don’t want, work with your ad partners to create a whitelist of acceptable ad publishers. Because this is such an important part of your brand management, it isn’t a task to contract out to your partners.


3. Get It in Writing


Once you’ve curated your lists, get your ad partners to commit to you in writing that they will follow your guidelines. All your publishers and platform partners should be comfortable with signing an addendum to your service agreement that holds them accountable to your whitelist. This should either preclude them from contracting your work out or ensure that if they do, they are responsible for maintaining your whitelist standards. Regardless, a single-fault policy should be in place. While it may sound hard to drop a partner for one mistake, the potential damage to your brand is huge and worth protecting.


By demanding transparency and creating a well-researched whitelist, it’s possible to achieve scale while being selective. If done right, it’s even possible to see bigger results from a smaller pool.


December 5, 2017


Marketing, Opinion