Traders Need Proof That Digital Adverts Aren’t Funding Misinformation

Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that the shareholders of two major media buyers, Omnicom and Home Depot, had filed resolutions in November examining whether their digital ad purchases were intended to “spread hate speech, disinformation, or the activities of white supremacists Efforts to suppress voters. “The resolutions, coordinated by Open MIC, were first published on January 15th.

Because of the complexity of the ad tech ecosystem, brands have long had trouble keeping track of their ad placements. With many actors along the supply chain, brands can advertise on websites and content, and in turn finance them that run counter to their company’s stated values.

It’s a problem that marketers Claire Atkin and Nandini Jammi wanted to clarify with their Branded newsletter and fix it through their brand security startup Check My Ads. Given the impact activist investors could have on brand safety and the spread of misinformation online, Adweek spoke to Atkin about how this could mark a turning point for the ad tech industry.

Adweek: Can you contextualize Omnicom-Home Depot’s investor needs and explain how this may differ from some of the other measures that have been taken in the past few years to address misplaced ads and misinformation?
Atkin: For years, advertisers have funded disinformation, hate speech, and white supremacy with their ad budgets, largely because the ad tech ecosystem seems to maintain political neutrality at all costs and refuses to remove websites that are brand safe. For years, marketers have urged ad exchanges and brand security companies to keep our ads away from white nationalist publishers. We don’t know why they haven’t received the message yet.

Now, for the first time, investors need to blend in with the relationship between digital advertising and violent extremism. This is new, and I am optimistic that this is yet another sign that the industry’s approach to brand safety will change dramatically this year.

What specific role could these activist investors play in preventing misinformation? Of course, there is no silver bullet, but does this create a new opportunity in the fight against ad-supported online misinformation?
Yes, it is a huge amount of money that is currently not included in our current practices. There is a lot of room for change. There are three hurdles to this problem: Draw the line between the appropriate and inappropriate use of your advertising spend. Communicating your standards along the chain of command; and then operationalize using the tools available in the social media and ad sharing dashboards. If I were these investors, I would insist on starting that first conversation and sharing the brand’s needs with the platforms.

Do you think that with a new administration in the White House, there will be a new way for government to respond to online ad-supported misinformation?
There needs to be more transparency for marketers in ad tech. Right now we don’t have the information and control we need to decide where our ads are going.

Now what else can brands do to make sure they aren’t funding misinformation?
The first step is to get everyone on board with reviewing ads and making sure you stay away from hate speech and extremism. At Check My Ads, we thought businesses would need ad reviews. However, we’ve found that it’s actually more important just to understand what brand safety is and how to properly operationalize it in your advertising campaigns.

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