Monday 20 November 2017

Steve Dempsey: Pulling adverts is all the rage

Steve Dempsey

Steve Dempsey

There's a new trend in advertising - pulling ads due to brand safety. There's the YouTube boycott, which has seen a host big name agencies and advertisers pull their ads on Google's video platform.

Why? Because Google isn't yet able to guarantee that their ads won't appear alongside unsavoury content, such as content featuring racism or extremism.

In the US, TV commercials are also being pulled. Over 30 advertisers - including Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Hyundai and GSK -have axed ads from Fox News's The O'Reilly Factor after several women claimed to have been sexually harassed by the show's host. "The allegations are disturbing and, given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don't feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now," a Mercedes spokesperson said.

Last year it was alt-right website Breitbart that saw an exodus of advertisers. Kellogg's was first to go, saying it wouldn't be placing ads on websites that weren't aligned with its values. Breitbart's response wasn't too classy. "For Kellogg's, an American brand, to blacklist Breitbart News in order to placate left-wing totalitarians is a disgraceful act of cowardice," thundered Breitbart's editor-in-chief, Alexander Marlow, adding: "If you serve Kellogg's products to your family, you are serving up bigotry at your breakfast table." Since then the likes of Lufthansa, Visa, T Mobile and Audi have copied Kellogg's lead and pulled ads from Breitbart.

There is one overarching question, here: are brands getting too touchy about where their ads run? Are they at risk of putting values ahead of sales? It may be an unpopular question, but bigots buy breakfast cereal too. And Bill O'Reilly, regardless of the disgusting allegations against him still pulled in 3.65 million viewers for Fox News last Monday.

These aren't like for like examples. A brand that no longer wants to be associated with a TV host who has a tarnished reputation, can very quickly pull its ads. Online, however, things are a little murkier. Thanks to programmatic buying many advertisers don't know where their ads are running. And what you don't know about, you can't stop. Because advertisers have moved away from direct buys on particular sites, in favour of targeting audiences across the web based on their browsing habits, there's no guarantee that ads will run against content that brands deem suitable. Online advertisers should know where their ads are. They should demand details from their agencies. They should minimise their exposure to businesses that are "arbitraging and prospering from digital ambiguity" in the words of News Corp CEO Robert Thomson.

Here's a cautionary tale, In March, L'Oréal UK CMO Hugh Pile told the Drum he was very clear on where his media spend was going. Fast forward one week and the company was "horrified" and "unaware" that its latest campaign promoting the Prince's Trust, which features Helen Mirren, was running on YouTube alongside a sermon from homophobic pastor, which contained the snappy line that gay people "were not born that way, but they will burn that way".

Another example of note comes from banking and financial services giant JP Morgan Chase. The company had been running ads on around 400,000 websites a month. But following the fake news furore and the YouTube turmoil, it limited its display ads to about 5,000 pre-approved websites. The results? There's been little or no change in the cost of impressions or the visibility of its online ads.

So maybe advertisers can still effectively reach their intended audience by being more selective. Maybe less is more. Surely this is good news for any site with a tradition of journalism and broad social relevance. The Financial Times has published a commercial charter, as has 1XL a union of regional publishers in the UK. "Maintaining the integrity of our content and our advertising environment is fundamental to us, and local news brands have always scored extremely well for trust," a statement from 1XL said this week . "This was validated by a recent Comscore survey of UK Internet users - people said they trusted content on local news sites almost three times more than they did on social media."

Everyone knows the quote attributed to marketing maverick John Wannamaker "half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don't know which half." Perhaps in the modern digital sphere this quote should evolve into "half the money I spend on online advertising is on the wrong sites. I better find out which half".

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