Investors want proof that digital ads don’t fund disinformation

At the start of the week, the New York Times reported that shareholders of two major media buyers, Omnicom and Home Depot, filed resolutions in November calling for inquiries into whether their digital ad purchases were contributing to “the spread of hate speech, disinformation, white supremacy or voter suppression efforts ”. The resolutions, which were coordinated by the non-profit corporate responsibility organization Open MIC, were first made public on January 15.

Brands have long struggled to keep tabs on their ad placements due to complex nature of the ad-tech ecosystem. With many players in the supply chain, brands can end up advertising on –and, in turn, funding—Websites and content that go against their company’s stated values.

This is a problem that marketers Claire Atkin and Nandini Jammi aimed to clarify with their newsletter, Branded, and correct through their branded security startup Check My Ads. Given the impact activist investors could have on brand safety and the proliferation of online disinformation, Adweek sat down with Atkin to discuss how this could mark a turning point for the ad technology industry. .

Adweek: Can you contextualize investor demands for Omnicom-Home Depot and explain how it might be different from some of the other steps that have been taken to tackle misplaced ads and misinformation in recent years?
Atkin: For years, advertisers have funded disinformation, hate speech, and white supremacy with their ad budgets, in large part because the ad technology ecosystem appears determined to maintain political neutrality at all costs and refuses to take down sites. which are not sure for the brand. For years, marketers have asked advertising exchanges and brand protection firms 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 must step into the relationship between digital advertising and violent extremism. It’s new, and I’m optimistic it’s yet another sign that we’re going to see a big change in the way the industry approaches brand safety this year.

What specific role could these activist investors play in preventing disinformation? There is obviously no silver bullet, but does this create a new opportunity in the fight against misinformation funded by online advertising?
Yes, this is a huge amount of money that is currently not accounted for in our current practices. There is a lot of room for change. There are three barriers to this problem: drawing the line between what is and what is not an appropriate use of your ad spend; communicate your standards throughout the chain of command; then operationalize them using the tools available on social networks and advertising exchange dashboards. If I were these investors, I would insist on starting that first conversation, and communicating the brand’s needs to the platforms.

With a new administration in the White House, do you think there is a new opportunity for a political response to disinformation sponsored by online advertising?
There needs to be more transparency for marketers in ad technology. Currently, we do not have the information or control to decide where our advertisements go.

What else can brands do now to make sure they’re not funding disinformation?
The first step is to get everyone to check the ads and make sure you stay away from hate speech and extremism. At Check My Ads, we thought businesses would need ad checks, but what we’ve learned is that it’s actually more important to just understand what brand security is and how implement correctly in your advertising campaigns.

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