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The Advertising & Terrorism Connection

Tom Sullivan

March 28, 2017
Tom Sullivan

Problematics with Programmatic

Programmatic advertising in the online ecosystem has been growing rapidly because it enables advertisers to reach their audience with relevant messages at meaningful times and places at scale.  I think of programmatic as the Gold Rush of advertising.  Advertisers are getting better ROI while publishers and ad networks are getting increased ad spend at the expense of other media channels. But gold also attracts unscrupulous characters.

It came to light during this year’s SuperBowl. Some of those characters include terror organizations. Right after the game, Hyundai ran an ad that saluted US troops.  The industry was abuzz when it learned that the spot ran on YouTube as a pre-roll ad to a video supporting Hezbollah.

A February 9, 2017 story in The Times (UK) reported that some of the world’s biggest brands unwittingly support terrorism through their ads that appear alongside a YouTube video.  A terror group that posts a video receiving millions of views “typically earn $7.60 for every 1,000 views.”  That adds up fast especially when no one has been looking.  Other brands like Mercedes Benz, Budweiser, P&G have looked deeper to discover similar issues affecting their brand placements.

While Google, who owns YouTube, has policies against content that incites violence, it still does not have the capabilities to monitor all content in real time to determine when advertiser placement appears in such a dangerous environment. It takes time to identify and remove the content.

Programmatic advertising has also been negatively affected by fraud (e.g, click bots) which the World Federation of Advertisers estimates at between 10% and 30% of all clicks.  The question becomes, what can brand advertisers do to protect themselves when perpetrators of fraud, harmful placement and Fake News are working to game the system?

First, advertisers can decide to purchase space only on private exchanges. However, this decision requires resources, time, and money. Second, they can modify contracts with networks and publishers to penalize fraud and inappropriate placement. Third, they can demand investments by the major publishers and platform companies to prevent fraud and increase transparency.

Advertisers are already using their most potent weapons. They are pulling their ad buys from YouTube.  And on March 17th the global agency Havas announced they are pulling all spending from Google and YouTube in the United Kingdom, citing the desire to have more control of its inventory in hopes of keeping brands away from inappropriate or offensive content.

Uniting in a decision to demand greater fraud prevention, protection, and transparency is the most effective way for the marketing and advertising industries to gain control over the placement of their content. Audiences are growing increasingly sensitive to the associations that brands make. It’s critical that advertisers send a message to major media outlets, such as YouTube, that control and quality are of the utmost importance. If conscious efforts aren’t made to do so, it will begin to affect these platforms’ bottom lines.