Advertising in the age of Misinformation – Part 2

Advertising in the age of Misinformation – Part 2

The $600 billion digital advertising industry still lacks necessary scrutiny and moderation.This concluding part discusses the digital advertising industry landscape and how advertisers must adopt a proactive stance to reclaim their data.

The Labyrinthine Landscape of the Digital Advertising Industry

Programmatic advertising serves as the backbone of online advertising, facilitating the algorithmic placement of ads through lightning-fast auctions influenced by numerous factors and characterised by limited human oversight. While this system theoretically offers efficiency and real-time campaign monitoring, its actual implementation is far more intricate. The presence of multiple intermediary companies within the supply chain adds layers of complexity, making campaign oversight significantly more challenging than anticipated by those outside the industry. Typically, an ad placement involves the following components:

  • A demand-side platform (DSP) that connects advertisers to the marketplace.
  • Supply-side platforms (SSPs), acting as intermediaries for publishers.
  • Ad networks, brokers are positioned in the middle of the supply chain.
  • Data management platforms (DMPs) used to collect and manage data pertaining to an advertiser’s target audience.

As one might predict, the intricate web of business relationships has inadvertently allowed disinformation outlets to infiltrate this system. The integration of website owners into the advertising ecosystem is facilitated by self-serve application processes, coupled with a tendency among intermediary companies to overlook potential issues. This lack of scrutiny, both pre-and post-placement, is concerning.

To address this concern, industry associations like the Global Alliance of Responsible Media (GARM), including members such as GroupM, Havas, and Procter & Gamble, have sought to limit funding to what they term “brand-unsafe” platforms by introducing stricter definitions for their members to endorse. GARM’s brand safety framework explicitly prohibits advertising on platforms that engage in content deemed “insensitive, irresponsible, and harmful with regard to sensitive social issues or that demean specific groups.” Simultaneously, a new breed of technology companies, distinct from those mentioned earlier, known as ad verification and brand safety solutions, have emerged to offer protection against such content.

Nevertheless, companies often find themselves locked in a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. For instance, years after major advertisers collectively ceased advertising on the right-wing news site Breitbart, they unknowingly found themselves once again funding Steve Bannon, its former editor-in-chief. The existing system makes it exceedingly difficult for brands to protect their reputation and investments.

Presently, advertisers must rely on AdTech companies to identify the placement of their advertisements. Unfortunately, these companies and agencies frequently make it arduous for advertisers to access detailed reports outlining the specifics of ad placements. This is critical for auditing the effectiveness of vendor technology and understanding where advertising funds are directed. This issue affects both large and small advertisers. For instance, leading brand safety technology companies typically offer high-level performance reports categorised by type. A Fortune 500 company, for instance, disclosed that they were unwilling to provide granular details, such as blocked URLs, unless the company significantly increased its spending.

This lack of transparency conceals both malicious actors and suboptimal performance. For instance, one ad retargeting company primarily furnishes its clients with high-level performance reports. Yet, when a client,, requested comprehensive information regarding the placement of their ads, the company created a customised dashboard for them. This revealed dozens of disinformation outlets and thousands of inappropriate websites and apps. Consequently, the client blocked their ads from appearing on these platforms, reducing their daily ad spending from $1,200 to $50. Remarkably, their campaign performance remained consistent.

These incidents are not isolated; they form part of a recurring pattern. Adtech companies operate in a shroud of secrecy, effectively excluding advertisers from the decision-making process. This lack of control and oversight has led to outcomes that disproportionately affect advertisers and society at large.

Empowering Advertisers to Reclaim Their Data

As digital advertising budgets surge, the stakes have never been higher. To address this challenge, advertisers must adopt a proactive stance to ensure they are aware of the precise placement of their advertisements. Several straightforward yet impactful measures can be undertaken by companies:

  • Auditing Ad Campaigns: Instead of relying on high-level performance reports provided by ad tech companies, insist on receiving log-level data, which represents the most accurate source of information about your ad placements. Employing supply chain research firms can aid in conducting thorough audits of your campaigns.
  • Minimising Dependence on Brand-Safety Technology: Prominent ad verification companies typically furnish high-level reports, offering limited insights into specific ad placements and blocks. Relying solely on this technology may not be sufficient to safeguard your company’s reputation from unwanted associations. If brand safety technology is integral to your strategy, ensure that the data it provides is regularly subjected to audits, as it can occasionally fall short or even yield counterproductive results.
  • Demanding Cash Refunds: Discrepancies between the data contained in your log-level records and the promised campaign standards are not uncommon. When such discrepancies arise, assert your right to receive a cash refund rather than accepting a make-good offer. Companies are entitled to both a refund and an explanation outlining the measures to be implemented to prevent future discrepancies. Should the vendor be unwilling to comply, contemplate severing the partnership.

In essence, marketing transcends mere outreach and click-throughs. It is fundamentally about the associations companies forge and the impact they have on the world. In their role as marketers, companies allocate substantial resources to promote their brands, thereby amassing considerable influence. Now is the time to wield this influence constructively. By taking control of their ad campaigns, companies can not only enhance their brand but also contribute to the development of a more informed and democratic society.



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