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Protecting your Brand Advertising from Extremist Content

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There is a lot in the press about brands pulling their advertising from Google, Facebook and other online distribution channels due to these ads appearing on extremist or controversial websites.

On top of this brands, such as Lego and Kellogg’s, are pulling promotions from news media outlets whose opinion or slant is considered too far to the right for comfort. Due to the outlets biased and warped slanting on issues such as immigration. See #stopfundinghate on Twitter.

And today, 26th of March 2017, British politicians have come out to demand that digital companies such as Google and Facebook, amongst many others, do more to police content on their platforms due in part to the horrific events this week in London.

This feels like it is all bubbling to a head. Conspiracy theorists concerned about the locking down of the internet will be chomping at the bits, and those that already have concerns about the level of privacy infringements from the security services will be wondering what next.

As a digital and direct marketing guy that specialises in behavioural analysis, what can I recommend to brands rightfully worried that they may have to pull their advertising? Worried about policing their social channels and so forth. Brand reputation management is key to survival. But so is maintaining good sources of traffic.

Let me break this down it to what I see as four separate issues that need to be considered and discussed in and of themselves.

  1. Is controlling where our digital advertising is being displayed on the world-wide-web and ensuring it does not end up on the kind of websites that could do us harm.
  2. Brands taking ethical stances against extremist content and political propaganda.
  3. Digital channels policing their own content.
  4. Privacy and civil rights protection online.

Each of these points will be looked at in a separate post. In this article, we will focus on:

Where are my adverts showing?

Controlling where our adverts are being displayed.

Depending on the size of your organisation you may now be wondering where your adverts are showing on the web. You may be concerned that they are showing on websites or blog posts next to extremist and/or far-right material, next to news articles that you would not want to be associated with.

The thing is that this is not a new problem. This has been one of those hardly talked about secret issues in the digital advertising industry for a long time. Especially with the onset of programmatic advertising and real-time ad buying being such a boom industry. Those that have the resource to utilise it will know that these are truly issues they face on a day to day basis. These may be issues they ignore, but they have been here for some time.

The thing is that if you are using programmatic advertising, you should have a sophisticated digital analytics setup. Google Basic is almost certainly not enough to be fully getting what you can out of programmatic. 

analytics

Google analytics aside whether you are using programmatic advertising or simple Google and Facebook advertising you should have a range of digital analytics that sits outside of your actual website to analyse marketing campaigns. Relying on website analytic services alone is not enough.

Ensure your analytics has attributions correctly set up

A joined up the slick system, or a series of carefully crafted/sourced traffic and analytical tools (some may just be Excel) are a must in today’s marketing world to ensure attribution is properly monitored.

By carefully assessing these sources of advertising traffic we can find out where our adverts are being seen and interacted with, and we can then take action accordingly if needed.

Surely it is a much more extreme route to pull all advertising from Google and Facebook until they clean up their act, for one this may never happen. For smaller businesses and indeed those that this website is aimed at (social enterprises, charities and not for profits) often cannot afford to cut off the channels of their greatest traffic sources.

You could also question whether those big brands pulling advertising from these networks and search engines are not doing so simply to grab headlines egged on by their PR teams salivating over the ethical and socially responsible kudos it will deliver them. Time will tell. After all, for the digital channels to take note and act regarding this is no simple step.

Trust in the analysts, not the software

Algorithms can only do so much. At some point, organisations will need to invest in people with enough skill, knowledge and proactivity to analyse threats and problematic sites and advise taking action. And then who decides what does and does not remain? Who polices and censors the internet platforms? Questions that will get internet geeks (like me), conspiracy theorists and rights campaigners concerned about control of digital media by governments, big business and the elite. 

Algorithms, automation and programmatic routes are not the complete answer. That is to say that while many are quick to see the benefits of big data, the internet of things, industry 4.0, automation and the future of artificial intelligence we far too often forget to weigh up the dangers and threats and forget to really appreciate the benefit of the human elements. What people bring to the table.

That is to say that advances in software and digital analytics are great but without the human analyst and strategic thinkers to take that data and make it into something useable and understandable or to take those insights so as to strategically plan improvements you are wasting your money. In fact, I would go to say that 80% of your budget in this area should go on getting the right people and 20% on the right software. I am not just saying that because I am one of those people. Honest.

The reason I say this is because if we were to sit down with those brands that have just announced they are pulling their Google advertising and ask them how many of the ads had been seen on extremist sites and how big was the problem really was that they would find this hard to answer.

But I run a small not for profit or social enterprise!!

“But I run a small not for profit, I don’t use programmatic, and my analytics is basic at best. We cannot afford resource to monitor these things daily. How can I protect my brand?”

OK. Good point this site is after all geared up to advise and help that market, so maybe I should give a little bit of information in this area.

Profile your customers and segment your advertising accordingly

There are a couple of things to think about. One is where are you advertising, as in through which distribution networks? Is it Google, Facebook, Bing, etc.? If so then you can login to your AdWords account and other accounts and see where your adverts might be displaying and/or profile and segment your target audience to avoid certain subjects, certain sites and/or individual countries among others.

In AdWords, you could take the step of ensuring your adverts are only showing on the Google search network. Turn off display networks and while Google comes up with its magic fix for this problem. Focus your efforts on Google Search Advertising only. Taking the time to hone your advertising, keywords, negative keywords and landing pages to improve your quality scoring and performance. Other networks like the BingAds have similar tools and selections you can make.

In Facebook, you can profile your audience and include or exclude them based on demographics like location, age group, gender, interests, languages, politics (in US), relationships and work. As well as their interest, such as sport, entertainment, food and drink and so on. On top of this, you can profile them based on their behaviours such as consumer classifications, digital activities, financial status, multicultural affinity, purchase behaviour, residential profiles, notably charitable donations in the UK and many others. You can also decide to some degree what parts of Facebook the advert can be seen in.

Essentially whatever the platform you are advertising direct onto whereby you set up the ads and the criteria you should be able to profile and segment where, how and to whom the advert will be displayed.

Get Social Advocates to be your Eyes and Ears

If the resource is an issue a great way to police what is happening with your adverts and indeed your brand online is to have your subscribers and supporters to be your eyes and ears. By developing a social identity (click to read my article on creating social identities) for them alongside your brand, you can develop them into advocates. These can then be your spies in the digital world as well as the protectors of your message and brand.

While I am not suggesting you encourage them to trawl through websites with extremist or questionable content, they may be simply informed by others, see on a forum or social network or accidently stumble across something that they take notice of. Having them there to defend your brand from trolls is one benefit but encouraging them to inform you where you can make improvements in your advertising decisions can not only stop you from showing your ads where you do not want to see them but also adds to your kudos as an ethical brand.

In conclusion

While the digital platforms need to do their bit, it is not enough for us as digital marketers to stick our heads in the sand and pull all our advertising until they get it right. We can do a lot by not relying on automated solutions but also have human analysts and brand advocates support in helping us to make ethical advertising decisions and finally by profiling our customers and segmenting our advertising accordingly we can take greater control over our advertising and marketing placements. We won’t get it right 100% of the time, but we can make improvements.

In the next article, we will look at point 2 on the list.

  1. Is controlling where our digital advertising is being displayed on the world-wide-web and ensuring it does not end up on the kind of websites that could do us harm.
  2. Brands taking ethical stances against extremist content and political propaganda.
  3. Digital channels policing their own content.
  4. Privacy and civil rights protection online. 

 

 

 

 

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