Fake News is Only Part of the Problem

The bigger problem is brand safety in general. Several years ago, we partnered with a company whose major selling proposition was the ability to determine whether a potential site was brand-safe by machine reading its content — in 60 languages. That company could not find enough advertisers who were willing to pay to have that determination made, and it was sold to a larger company and probably shut down. Years later, the problem of brand safety not only still exists, but got exponentially bigger last fall with the emergence of a new category of publishers: fake news.

Advertisers should have learned by now, but they haven’t. Many media buyers are still buying audience, that is, numbers, rather than content. The grossest evidence for this is how large a percentage Facebook and Google control of the ad spend. Buyers would rather put their faith in the targeting of Facebook and Google to get big numbers than buy against the right content for their targeted consumers.

On the face of it, this seems ridiculous. Why wouldn’t a buyer want to buy “deep” — on a niche site data has already told you is a site your customers visit –rather than buy “wide” on a bigger array of sites in the hope you will catch her on one of them.

Why? Because buying deep requires more work. It requires making a white list and enforcing it, or choosing a vendor who has already cleaned its network of fraudulent sites. It requires knowing what you are buying, and from whom. And it also includes buying and enforcing frequency caps.

A recent article in AdExchanger described the problem for media buyers;

The second change we must make is that brands must remember that there is a finite number of people on Earth. Media buyers would much rather get high volume at low prices than limit their media buy to an accurate number of real people at higher CPM. Rather than accept the normal rules of an economy with scarcity, media buyers have fooled themselves into buying audiences at high frequencies on low-quality media. Context and frequency caps go out the window as soon as a media buyer sees that a campaign might not deliver in time. This encourages media spending on click-bait content that is forwarded and viewed at high volume, but of very low value. If brands were to stick to frequency caps with their advertising, they would be less likely to fund low-quality content that simply exists to game the system.

There are many industry initiatives under way to make this possible, including the certification systems of the Trustworthy Accountability Group, and the code of conduct just released by the German industry group BVDW for people who buy and sell programmatically. Central to all of them is knowing who your vendors are and knowing what you are buying.

We spent the past year cleaning our private platform of publishers who were not premium and delivered us useless or fraudulent traffic. At least there’s ONE place we know you can buy safely for your brand.