My Thoughts: In this recent article from The New York Times the moral struggle of advertising on “fake news” sites is discussed, and there are some good questions asked.
Decisions on where you advertise are always a complicated subject when it comes to marketing. Brands don’t usually want to be associated with false or inflammatory content (unless it’s clear parody, like The Onion) but they’re also always looking for cheap yet effective ways to get in front of customers.
With the way online programmatic advertising is set up, most marketers aren’t directly choosing where their ads are showing up anymore, but instead that’s done mostly at an algorithmic level. Of course in order to get into the advertising platform as a “publisher” in the first place you have to usually be “approved” by the ad networks, so in my opinion the responsibility should really be on the ad networks themselves who are selling the inventory rather than the advertisers.
In my time at Musicnotes I ran into similar issues with “illegal” web sites. All-too-often we would find our ads displaying on sites with unlicensed content – which was against our internal policies. While we turned off any ads we saw on these sites, the way the networks were set up made it nearly impossible to know where our ads would show up until they did so.
Besides this policing of ads though, there was the whole other larger question of if we should be advertising there or not. While we made the moral decision to not support such sites by sending ad revenue their way, we did have to deal with the fact that our competitors did not follow the same “moral rules” as we did – which put us at a competitive disadvantage in the market.
So as I see it, the advertising on “fake news” sites is just another extension of an already long-standing issue: as programmatic advertising and ad networks continue to take more ad share, how do we police where ads show up? Does the responsibility lie with the ad networks or the advertisers themselves?
Should we even be self-policing this? Do we have a moral obligation as marketers to make decisions as to what is “right or wrong” to advertise on? Or should ad dollars just go after the eyeballs?