25 Oct. 2017 | Comments (0)

SNCR is studying how ad-supported media models can enable fake news—and what the marketing community thinks about it. Imagine our surprise, then, when The Conference Board discovered that we had fallen victim of the very issue we were trying to understand better. In August, an employee visited Breitbart.com for research purposes and noticed a banner ad from The Conference Board. He subsequently raised an alarm with the marketing team, believing that association with the controversial site would harm our brand. As part of SNCR’s focus on brand adjacency to fake news, I interviewed The Conference Board’s CMO, Carol Orenstein, to find out more about what happened and her team’s response.

Before going into the detail of my interview with Carol, it’s interesting to note that AdAge recently reported the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) faced the exact same scenario as The Conference Board earlier this month. AdAge noted that the association had fallen foul of “the same opaque digital media supply chain that it often complains about.” Clearly, something is awry.

The Conference Board’s marketing team was not long into its experiment with programmatic advertising when our banner ad appeared on the Breitbart website. After being informed by the employee who saw it, Carol immediately stopped the programmatic campaign, citing the lack of filter use as the reason for the stray ad appearing.

“[The Conference Board’s] product is fact and information,” Carol said. “We don’t want our product being associated with things that aren’t factually accurate.”

The marketing team was not using an ad agency at the time (although it does now), so the digital experiment was being carried out in house. But Carol argues that using an agency might have helped to mitigate the issue, because agencies typically create lists of sites they’ll filter out of their programmatic buying. (That being said, ANA was using an agency during its programmatic campaign which resulted in the same problem as The Conference Board.)

Carol and her team are now focusing their efforts on Google Adwords, which she considers a move to understand the basics of digital advertising before moving onto “nice-to-haves” like programmatic. Nonetheless, she still sees the benefits of programmatic advertising for the right companies with the right use of filters.

In the AdAge piece, ANA CEO Bob Liodice is quoted as saying: “We as leaders should not accept this byzantine, non-transparent, super complex digital media supply chain. No one can understand it. Yet, we keep feeding the beast by pouring incredible sums of money into this unproductive, unmanageable abyss.”

Carol also mentioned to me her concerns with the use of programmatic advertising if it is not properly understood. It seems there is clearly a need for education and better information about these new advertising techniques. The need exists not only for marketing and advertising executives, but also for web users and consumers generally. Carol notes that programmatic ads follow you as a web user wherever you go. In the case of The Conference Board, we were targeting the employee, not readers of Breitbart, so the ad followed him. If consumers understood that, she argues, there would be less risk of brand damage when ads appear adjacent to fake news.

SNCR is trying to help with education. Our current focus is on benchmarking the attitudes of marketers and advertisers who are responsible for buying digital advertising, to understand what their plans are regarding programmatic advertising in the era of fake news.

Please help us by participating in our survey at www.conference-board.org/fakenewssurvey and share your own experiences in the comments.

  • About the Author: Alexander Parkinson

    Alexander Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson is a senior researcher and associate director of the Society for New Communications Research of The Conference Board (SNCR). He specializes in corporate philanthropy and communications …

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