You don’t have to join that Facebook ad boycott

Facebook isn’t afraid of boycotts. It’s afraid of us imagining what a Facebook-free marketing strategy looks like.

Welcome back to BRANDED, the newsletter exploring how marketers broke society (and how we can fix it).

Here’s what’s new with us this week:

  • We launched our new company, Check My Ads! 🎉 Let us check your ads for you.

  • Fast Company covered our launch

  • The Drum gave us a shout out for being part of the solution to bad ads (Thank you!).

  • Nandini talked to Forbes about how brands can support BLM by checking their media dollars. 

  • We did a joint interview with Ad.Product about brand safety and BRANDED.

You’ve probably been hearing more and more about No Hate No Profit, the campaign asking advertisers to drop Facebook advertising for the month of July. North Face, Patagonia, and UpWork have all announced they will pause their ads to pressure Facebook to adopt and enforce anti-racist policies

With so many big names joining in, you may be wondering whether you should seriously entertain disrupting a month’s worth of marketing activities for this moonshot campaign. As Josh Sternberg notes in MediaNut, no boycott against Facebook has ever really worked… and the probability is that this one won’t either.

Why? Because Facebook isn’t afraid of a boycott. They don’t care if you’re upset at them for promoting political lies and white supremacy. Even if they lose a couple hundred million dollars and even if they take a PR hit throughout July, they know you’ll be back on August 1st. 

What does scare them though, is that for the first time, marketers are openly exploring ways to meet their long-term marketing goals without using Facebook ads — and for Facebook, that is the kiss of death. 

Marketing without Facebook? Let’s talk about that

Marketing without - or with less - Facebook isn’t a new idea. Procter & Gamble’s Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard has been publicly flirting with investing in an alternative media supply chain for years. 

What is new though, is that this idea is starting to go mainstream. Marketers - not just consumers - are concerned with what’s happening on Facebook. That’s… different.  Here’s what’s happening on the ground right now:

Rank-and-file employees are turning up the heat in their own companies. 

Previous efforts to hold Facebook accountable have almost always come through organized consumer pressure. This time, the anger and frustration is coming from in-house - from the people who influence and control the company wallet. 

Here’s what an agency exec told Josh from MediaNut: 

“From an industry POV, the reality is a lot of clients are upset....The thing that’s different for Facebook is that there’s real energy in the client bases. When you have these huge companies [pull spend], particularly if they can get more organized, that pressure is different….” 

At least one major agency is openly encouraging their clients to consider the boycott. While all this is nothing new - agencies have revolted before - this time it isn’t just a cynical ploy by agency execs to gain leverage over their tech overlords.

This time ordinary employees are waking up to the idea that our marketing best practices are not sustainable. The pandemic, the BLM protests, and the upcoming U.S. election are forcing us to confront how our decisions are impacting our society in a new and urgent way. 

This shift is not trivial. As Facebook knows pretty well by now, employee revolts are bad news.

Marketing leaders are re-evaluating their strategies. 

With business-as-usual out the window, marketing leaders are starting to question why we’re still showing up to the casino every weekend with a bag of coins to play the same three slot machines. 

Dashlane just joined the boycott. As CMO Joy Howard said yesterday:

Stepping away from this—even for a month—will be hard for many of us. In the relentless pursuit of scale, most startups lean on performance marketing, falling into the endless cycle of “scale spend while keeping CPAs flat.” This leads to a world where 40 cents of every VC dollar goes to one of Facebook, Amazon, or Google. It’s clear our industry’s collective addiction to performance marketing has come at the expense of so much more than just R&D or product-market fit, and calls for a course-correction.

Is performance marketing all there is to life? Could there be other marketing channels out there in the galaxy? Can we meet our marketing goals using Facebook-free alternatives?

Howard is openly talking about moving away from the “addictive cycle” of “engagement-focused algorithms”, and towards a new paradigm. Facebook’s key value proposition is reaching the right users with the right message, at scale.

What happens when marketing leaders don’t believe they need that anymore?

Ben & Jerry’s originally declined to join the boycott. 

After initially telling the Wall Street Journal they didn’t feel a boycott is big or impactful enough to create real systemic change, Ben & Jerry’s signed on to No Hate No Profit. This is their initial statement:

“What we want to do is to try to make ourselves right at Ben & Jerryʼs—we always aspire to do the right thing. And we want our partners to do the same thing,” he said. “So to me, itʼs not just about signing on to boycott, which certainly, we may do. Itʼs about what are the actions that weʼd like to see happen so that we can collaborate with partners who want to progress the change that we support.” 

B&J is arguably the only brand in the U.S. that has had a successful response to BLM. This boycott is just one of many things they’re doing to address systemic racism.And that is where the real trouble lies for Facebook. Marketers are considering not just boycotting, but creating sustainable corporate change… without them.

What a Facebook-free marketing plan looks like

Here at BRANDED, we’re not going to tell you to join the boycott. 

All we’re going to say is that there’s no better time than now to start exploring what your marketing plan could look like without Facebook. You can make just as much of an impact by consistently reducing your spend over time on Facebook and Instagram, and reinvesting it elsewhere.

What are other ways to build and connect with our audiences? It depends on your brand, but here are some options. 

Sponsor podcast and newsletter creators. People only listen to podcasts and read newsletters that they care about. Which ones are your customers engaging with?

Make direct media buys. People are hooked on local news this year — that’s where you want to be. If your budget is smaller, you can use Ad Slot or Bloomberg. If it’s larger, contact publishers directly. They’d be happy to take your call. 

Host free training, classes & events. Give people something they value and be part of their self-improvement story.

Work with new media networks. Reach out to companies like Brand Advance, which represent intersectional audiences, including LGBTQ, Black, Asian and Disabled people..

Start a new referral program. Pay your customers to talk you up. 

Buy outdoor advertising. Make a statement for everyone to see.

Invest in your organic marketing. Pay more to hire better copywriters, designers and videographers to make your user experience (or your website) better.

Give products away. Redirect your budget towards product giveaways for creators, influencers and VIP customers. 

We’re sure we’re only scratching the surface here. Let us know what we’ve missed!

Opening our eyes to a permanent boycott

Between the pandemic, the BLM movement and the impending U.S. election, the rules of engagement have changed. For the first time, advertising is backfiring. In this climate, marketers have far more power than we know.

This moment we’re in is about tossing away the systems that don’t work, and replacing them with ones that contribute to a safe and sustainable future for us all.

You don’t see that everyday.

See you next time!

Nandini and Claire

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Under the hood of a Criteo ad campaign PLUS announcing Check My Ads

We took an ad campaign from $1200/day to $40/day. Surprise! No change in performance.

Welcome back to BRANDED, the newsletter exploring how marketers broke society (and how we can fix it).

Here’s what new with us this week:

  • TOMORROW, THURSDAY JUNE 11: Claire will be making her debut as an adtech expert with Joshua Lowcock, Dr. Augustine Fou, Louis-David Mangin, and DoubleVerify’s Roy Rosenfeld. Sign up HERE for the entertainment. 

  • AdRoll has confirmed they are no longer serving The Gateway Pundit.

  • Rubicon Project has also confirmed with us that they have dropped The Gateway Pundit from their inventory.

Every week since we started BRANDED, we’ve had one big call-to-action: check your ads. It’s likely you’re funding racism and disinformation, and you’re probably overspending too.

We reached out recently to Andrew Lissimore, CEO of Vancouver-based e-commerce company, to alert him that we’d seen his ads on, a conspiracy theory site. is the destination for high-end headphones. Andrew’s team has built a strong brand by investing in their community of audiophiles and by selling high-quality products backed by a 365-day return policy. Andrew told us his company invests a small portion of their budget for retargeting, using one vendor: Criteo. Criteo had given him the impression he could “set it and forget it.” Our message caught him by surprise. 

Andrew showed us his Criteo dashboard. In this newsletter, we’re going to show you what Criteo tells brands, and what we found under the hood. 

What they tell you

Here’s what brands hear from Criteo.

Criteo is: ad retargeting company

You should hire them to follow prospective customers around the web to keep your brand top of mind.  

...keeping your brand safe

Criteo tells you that you can trust them to place your ads in brand safe environments. In 2016, they announced that they partnered with Integral Ad Science, and said:

“The quality of the sites on which our ads are displayed is of paramount concern to both Criteo and our clients. Our new partnership with Integral Ad Science allows our clients across the globe to be confident that their consumers receive the best, most personalized and relevant ad experience possible. We’re pleased to partner with Integral Ad Science as we continue to meet industry and client standards when it comes to brand safety.”


The reality 

It’s hard to know which sites are driving sales

Andrew’s default dashboard showed impressive aggregate impression, click-through, and conversion rates (BIG NUMBERS!). But, there was no way to tell which individual sites were responsible for driving sales. He reached out to his Criteo rep for site-by-site conversion rates, but didn’t hear back.

Criteo doesn’t have a handle on their inventory

We started by combing through for bad faith publishers. On the list, we found about two dozen websites promoting racism, COVID-19 disinformation, and extreme hate speech. (Including The Gateway Pundit, which Criteo dropped just last week after a Bloomberg reporter’s inquiry.)

95% of the sites were useless

Most of the remaining sites in Criteo’s list are what you’d call “long tail” and racked up less than a couple dozen impressions without any clicks, contributing questionable value to the campaign. There were also random Android apps and a LOT of websites from Latin America even though doesn’t ship outside the U.S. and Canada. 

Andrew’s spend went from $1200/day to $40/day

After speaking with us, Andrew made three simple changes:

  1. He blocked the bad faith publishers we flagged

  2. He blocked those random Android apps

  3. He blocked websites outside of the U.S. and Canada

After checking his ads, Andrew’s ad spend with Criteo dropped from $1,200 per day to $40-50 per day without any change in performance. 

We’ve said this before… if you like to blow money, DM us for our Venmos and we’ll be happy to take it off your hands!

In all seriousness though, as marketers we would consider…

  • Giving away a pair of headphones to reviewers every day

  • Hiring several people for your marketing team 

  • Reinvesting in our company

How would you spend $1100 per day to grow your company?

SOME PERSONAL NEWS: We’re launching Check My Ads

It’s clear that the way we’re buying ads right now is bad for society and bad for our wallets. So, we are staging an intervention. 

For years, we’ve watched brands struggle to avoid funding hate, bigotry, and disinformation. Now, we’re offering to help. You can be intentional about what you support, who you associate with, and how much you spend. 

Being proactive and strategic feels a lot better than playing whack-a-mole. With Check My Ads, we are guiding a new generation of marketers towards safe and sustainable advertising practices.

At Check My Ads, we will

  • Review your ad placements for you 

  • Help you invest in sustainable marketing practices, and

  • Help you advertise in line with your values

Visit our new website! We’re taking clients. You can reach out to us at

And, if you want to support us, share this tweet:

We’ll tell you more next week. 🙂 See you soon!

Claire and Nandini


Did you like this issue? Then why not share! Please send tips, compliments and complaints to @nandoodles and @catthekin.

Take “racism” off your keyword blocklist

You can start funding critical conversations about racial injustice with your ad dollars, starting today.

Welcome back to BRANDED, the newsletter exploring how marketers broke society (and how we can fix it).

Here’s what new with us this week: 

  • Rubicon Project confirmed with us that they have dropped, a hate site promoting Islamophobia. Thank you!

  • Bloomberg reports that Criteo has dropped, citing its policy against false information and hate speech. 

  • Nandini spoke to Exame, a business magazine in Brazil, about Sleeping Giants and the unprecedented success of Sleeping Giants Brasil. We don’t expect you to read Portuguese so this is more of an FYI!

  • The New York Times reports that Nandini’s work at Sleeping Giants has prompted Fox News to hire a secret task force to discredit her and her co-founder. 

  • A major ad tech player informed us that a hate site we flagged with them triggered a review of their entire publisher onboarding process. Amazing!

We are not in a “feel good” moment

Hey, Claire here. 

We had a different newsletter planned for today. But as we watched protestors risk their lives on the streets to protest police brutality and white supremacy, we felt we needed to have a different conversation.

I’m writing today’s newsletter, because as a white woman and as a marketer, I recognize the instinct you may have to look for a feel-good moment in the middle of one of the most painful events in recent history. I’m here to remind you that an example of that instinct - the Kendall Jenner Live for Now Pepsi ad - was pulled immediately after it launched. And I want to remind you that the Black Lives Matter protests are not an invitation for you to build brand loyalty and connect with your audience. 

This moment is not about your brand. It is about how systemic racism disproportionately harms and kills Black people while you and me are able to live our lives without ever grappling with its pain. It is how we, white people, bring our unchecked attitudes and assumptions to work and process the pain of injustice in inappropriate ways that we don't fully grasp because it feels so alien to our own lived experiences. 

It’s about the fact that brands are doing two things right now, and neither one of them is an adequate response to this profound and deeply painful moment: 

  1. Putting out tone-deaf BLM statements on social media

  2. Figuring out how to stay the hell away from it 

It’s about the fact that I can assume - and I will - that most of our BRANDED subscribers are white. (ANA research shows that Black people only account for 4 percent of the "senior level" roles in marketing). 

Today, we’re going to talk about how our advertising best practices need to start changing. A note though, before I begin: the problems of systemic racism are not going to be solved by individual marketers making different choices within the advertising industry. Systemic racism needs to be solved with systemic solutions. So, take these suggestions as guidelines for where to begin. 

Unblock critical conversations about racial injustice

We’ve talked before about how brand safety technology companies advise marketers to keep their brands away from “negative sentiment” and “controversial” content. Integral Ad Science CEO Lisa Utzschneider even advised brands in April to use IAS technology to appear only near “hero-related pandemic content.” I wonder what her advice would be now? To advertise only on “hero-related riot content?”

This is a perfect example of white privilege in action. We are literally using our advertising stack to exclude and punish important news coverage because… it feels uncomfortable for us?

Think about what it means when Fidelity Investments has both “immigration” and “racism” on its keyword blocklist (WSJ). It means Fidelity does not fund any essential reporting around the most important issues facing our communities and our society today. What a way to support your diverse workforce.

Imagine running a Black media outlet - or any media outlet - that is financially penalized for producing stories about racism because thousands of brands just like Fidelity have simply blocked it out. 

When you block “negative sentiment” news content, you block investigative journalism and breaking news coverage. You make it difficult for reporters and newsrooms to invest in critical news coverage and stories that we as a society need in order to confront racism. And you make it damn near impossible for outlets that represent Black voices to even exist. 

Put your ad dollars behind Black voices 

Supporting Black lives means we need to seek out and support Black media, publishers and creators who are speaking out, sharing their experiences, and driving change. We should be thinking about how to reach and support Black trans voices, Black gay and lesbian voices, Black and disabled voices, and Black Muslim voices.

We spoke to BrandAdvance, an ad network that connects advertisers to multicultural segments. Their founder, Christopher Kenna, says:

“Why would you say you stand ‘shoulder to shoulder’’ with Black Lives Matter if you don’t even want to show your brand next to the stories and content that matter to the movement?”

If you’re struggling to find where and how to spend your ad dollars effectively, connect with people like Christopher to help you.

Make anti-racist media buys

Do you support Black Lives Matter? Then you have to start thinking about who you’re spending your budget with and what those people plan to do with your financial support. Advertising on media that actively promotes white supremacy and hate speech is inexcusable. 

I say that knowing what an uphill climb it is, even if you’re a white person, to try to bring up issues of race and power within our workplaces.

Just this week, we received an email from a BRANDED reader (a white man) asking for help: 

In our Management meeting at [company] today I brought up not running any ads on Fox News to show our colleagues that we mean it when we say we are an ally. I was met with blank stares and was told we couldn't do that because that is some of our clients demographic. I don't know how you do it because it feels like I'm always banging my head against a brick wall. Any advice on what to say or write to really get the point across? 

Fox News has become a toxic media buy after over 70 advertisers have fled Tucker Carlson, Bill O’Reilly, and Laura Ingraham’s shows over the past few years.

If you want to support Black communities, is investing your ad dollars in a network that employs a crew of racists who tell Lebron James to “shut up and dribble” your best bet? Answer the following for yourself and for your brand:

  1. Is that kind of rhetoric aligned with your brand values?

  2. Could you defend your media decisions on social media if someone saw it?

Ultimately, it’s a choice you have to make. But keep in mind, it’s one that we can all see.

Replace the term “blacklist” with the term “block list”

We’ve been guilty of this from the start. In our desire to communicate clearly, we used industry terms that reflected the idea that black = bad and white = good. But we realize that using the words “blacklist” and “whitelist” does have its roots in racism. Going forward, we will use “block list” and “allow list.” The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre recently made this change too

Emma W., Head of Advice and Guidance at the NCSC explained:

"It's fairly common to say whitelisting and blacklisting to describe desirable and undesirable things in cyber security. However, there's an issue with the terminology. It only makes sense if you equate white with 'good, permitted, safe' and black with 'bad, dangerous, forbidden'. There are some obvious problems with this.

Never thought of these terms as racist? Until it was pointed out to us, we didn’t either. We can mean well and also be blind to the ways we are being hurtful. We can also modify our actions moving forward, as part of our constant process of learning.

Awareness is just the first step

When you start to understand how marketing perpetuates systemic racism, you start to see the system of marketing as unto itself problematic and harmful. For some people, the actions listed in this newsletter won’t be nearly enough.

If you would like to learn more about white supremacy and racism, and how to be anti-racist, join the club! I am in a constant state of learning and re-learning, and I welcome you to reach out for more discussion. Conversely, if you think I’ve missed the mark, please let me know! It’s a weird saying, but I believe that “only friends tell you when you have something in your teeth.” 

Next time on BRANDED

Ok, NEXT newsletter, we’ll show you what happened when we went through the site list of a successful direct-to-consumer company. We found their ads on hate sites, disinformation, and parts of the world where they don’t even ship.

Lots to come. Thanks for reading!


Did you like this issue? Then why not share! Please send tips, compliments and complaints to @nandoodles and @catthekin.

Welcome to the lemon market

It's time for us to remember that 99 out of 100 websites are absolutely worthless.

Welcome back to BRANDED, the newsletter exploring how marketers broke society (and how we can fix it.)

What’s new here? A few updates from our end:

Have you heard this bonkers Chase Bank story?

It has been a little over three years since Chase Bank first discovered that they could cull down their ad campaigns from 400,000 websites to 5,000 — with no change in ROI.

It’s a wild story that you may not have heard: In early 2017, Chase checked on their ads and found they were appearing by default on 400,000 websites. They then swapped in a manual whitelist of 5,000 and their performance... stayed the same. Really, who among us hasn’t spent years advertising on 395,000 websites that are totally worthless? (Chase spent 2.2 billion dollars on advertising in 2017, so you can imagine the dollar amount we’re talking about here.)

There has been no meaningful change in ad tech since then. Certainly there’s been no overhaul to the systems we depend on to buy and sell our ads. Maybe the fact that Chase Bank is a multinational corporation that can absorb the costs of throwing 98.75% of their ad placements into the wind numbed the blow of that story, because it didn’t seem to change anything. 

Today, we are all Chase Bank, cluelessly buying ads and hoping that not too many of them are lemons. That’s because we are operating in a market for lemons - a market where there is information asymmetry between buyers and sellers. 

As we face the paring down of our marketing budgets for pandemic times, it’s time to start reconsidering what our limit is for buying ads that add no value to our marketing goals, have no ROI, and are sitting in corners of the web that could harm our brands. 

We’d like to show you a way out of the lemon market.

The citrus content is high in adtech 🍋

Adtech is a lemon market if we’ve ever seen one. We’ve found that sellers work to keep CPMs low by stocking their inventory with a limited number of quality sites and a lot of garbage sites (lemons). Together, the price averages out into what feels like a good deal. Only the seller knows how many lemons they sold you - there’s a reason they don’t encourage you to check your ads.  

Sure, some of you may still be in a place where you can afford to throw 98.75% of your ad placements into the wind. But for the rest of us tasked with bringing down our customer acquisition costs, we need our ads to work for us.

So where should we be spending our money? Well, let’s remember the basics of advertising — specifically the two main reasons we advertise in the first place:

  1. We want conversions (immediate $$) 

  2. We want to develop brand awareness and equity (future $$)

At a time like this, when every dollar counts, having a bag full of lemons - that is, impressions that no one sees or notices - doesn’t get you closer to either of these things.

You should be angling to get in front of the most engaged audiences for something called “attention.”

Follow the attention 👀

It’s hard to find out whether our ad placements caught our audience’s attention. Our advertising dashboards only give us metrics like CPMs, impressions and click-through rates to evaluate campaign success. Technically, that only tells us that our ads are being served.

But how do we know if they’re holding anybody’s attention, which is what we really need to build a brand?

One research group has an answer: the eye-tracking specialists at Lumen claim to be able to predict which ad placements will garner the most attention by looking at what they call “dwell time.”

Adelaide, an analytics company, recently took Lumen’s methodology a step further and designed an “attention index.” They took a long look at sites to find things like how big an ad is on the page, how cluttered the page is, and where the ad is placed on the page to predict which ads will lead to conversions. 

According to Adelaide’s Attention Leaderboard, the top fifteen places where readers will pay attention to your ad are:

  1. USA Today

  2. Axios

  3. Financial Times

  4. The Economist

  5. The New York Times

  6. Bloomberg

  7. The Food Network

  8. Huffington Post

  9. The Washington Post

  10. BBC

  11. NY Post

  12. Teen Vogue

  13. AP News

  14. The Atlantic

  15. Ars Technica 

We’re not surprised that of those top 15 sites, 14 are news. People engage with the news differently than they do with clickbait, games and all the other stuff on the internet. For one, they actually read the news, which means they are more likely to notice our ads, more likely to recall our brands, and click through to our sites. (They’re also more likely to be human, but that’s a different story.) 

In these trusted environments, our ads will actually be seen.

We’ve talked about the ROI of advertising on the news before. Ad sellers have confirmed that the ROI of news is higher than other environments. Marketing Week reported that Consumers ‘pay more attention’ to ads next to coronavirus news content.

But, we also know that placing ads strategically is easier said than done. So, we’re going to talk about the very first step of getting your ads on the right sites in the next issue. 

Next BRANDED: How to check your ads

In the next BRANDED, we’re going to dive into a real-life example. We’ll be using a real direct-to-consumer brand, look through their site lists, and give you details about what works and what doesn’t for their campaign. 

Until then!

Nandini and Claire 

P.S. Here are our MUST READS of the week.

CNBC’s Meg Graham made her own plagiarized site as an experiment and found she was quickly approved for ads by leading adtech companies. It’s an eye-opening, and you better believe she names names. (READ: To show how easy it is for plagiarized news sites to get ad revenue, I made my own)

Joshua Lowcock told it like it is in his recent Beet.TV interview.

“Brand suitability doesn’t mean positive or negative content… [it] shouldn’t be used to avoid certain categories of content. News is categorically a brand safe environment to be.”

Thank you to Joshua for his continued leadership on this topic! (WATCH: News Is Brand-Safe)

Did you like this issue? Then why not share! Please send tips, compliments and complaints to @nandoodles and @catthekin.

Pandemic disinformation is a brand safety disaster waiting to happen.

Ad tech to marketers: “You’re on your own”

UPDATE (May 7, 2020, 10:00pm): Following the publication of this newsletter, MediaMath confirmed with us that they placed The Federalist on their universal blacklist in response to our inquiry. Their response was swift and deliberate, and we thank them for clarifying.

Welcome back to BRANDED, the newsletter exploring how marketers broke society (and how we can fix it.)

On Monday, Amazon VP and Distinguished Engineer at AWS Tim Bray announced he was stepping down in protest of Amazon whistleblower firings.  He called it “evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. “I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison,” he said.

Choosing to serve poison feels like a good metaphor for something else we think about a lot: 🚨ad-funded COVID-19 disinformation🚨

For years, ad tech companies have claimed that brand safety is one of their highest priorities. In April 2018, Rubicon Project’s VP of Engineering John Clyman wrote

It’s no wonder many marketers feel anxious about programmatic buys, considering they’re relying on soulless machines and sometimes-opaque algorithms to determine where their brand’s advertising will be showcased. One appearance next to the wrong content can bring a PR disaster, negative associations, and damage to the bottom line. Marketers have even told me they worry that placement on a site with a toxic reputation could cause them to lose their jobs, and put their children’s college education in jeopardy.

At Rubicon Project, marketplace quality and brand safety has always been part of our own brand promise. We’ve built trust with our brand and agency partners who rely on us to provide the highest quality inventory and strong brand protection capabilities. 

If only this claim were accurate. According to a March 2020 report from Global Disinformation Index, Rubicon Project is a Top 5 carrier of coronavirus disinformation.

At a time when people are out in crowds protesting the lockdown, telling our nurses to go back to China, and downing bleach and hydroxychloroquine for good measure, this is serving poison in more ways than one. 

You can’t get more brand unsafe than coronavirus disinformation. So why is ad tech selling it?

Disinformation is still on the shelves

Rubicon Project is not alone in falling short of their brand promise. Most ad tech companies market themselves as having done the basic legwork of brand safety, whether it’s providing you with high-quality inventory, rooting out bad actors, or providing you with the safest possible environment for your brand.

We’re talking about health here, so let us use a metaphor: Ad tech’s collective promise to marketers is that buying ads is brand safe. Shopping with them, let’s say, is like shopping at the grocery store. And it is! If you give up every assumption you have about grocery shopping.

You walk into a grocery store assuming they adhere to basic food safety standards. You assume their employees regularly check on inventory and charge a markup so you don’t have to forage through bags of moldy bagels to find breakfast. 

Now imagine shopping at a grocery store that doesn’t check their inventory and also stocks the shelves with recalled and expired food because they think it’s a “gray area” and who knows, you might want to buy it? 

That’s kind of how the industry as a whole operates when it comes to the biggest threats to your brand’s safety:

The only way a grocery store guarantees their customers aren’t going to buy recalled food is to not carry it.  But in ad tech, disinformation is staying on the shelves. 

Nearly every major ad tech company blacklisted Breitbart after it became a brand safety issue for their customers, but they continue to partner with other sites that peddle the same type of content. In other words, they’re not protecting our brands. If you buy yourself a moldy bag of donuts, that’s on you. If you get sick, that’s on you.

Ad tech companies vet their inventory - and they don’t. They’re all about brand safety - and they aren’t. The claims and contradictions are endless. The people who tell marketers “leave it to us” are the same people who say “make your own blacklists.” 

Marketers are doing our best to have our brands lead right now at a stressful time. So, it’s disappointing for us that our vendors can’t anticipate our needs: We don’t want our brands to be anywhere near COVID disinformation.

It should also go without saying that we are marketers, not disinformation specialists. So, that leaves these questions:

  • Do ad tech companies really expect the average marketer to weed out the daily proliferation of fake news and disinformation?

  • Isn’t that what we pay our ad tech vendors to do? 

There are two ways to fight COVID-19 disinformation: Ensure ads appear on news sites and ensure ads don’t appear on disinformation websites. Ad tech has failed on both counts.

What you need to know

Next ad campaign you run, here are some things you can do to avoid funding disinformation:

  1. Question your media partners. Your agency or vendors don’t always have a full grasp of where your ads are running. Don’t take their word for it - ask for raw data.

  2. Ensure you have access to platform logins. It’s a huge red flag if you don’t own your contracts with platforms and have your own logins. It’s ultimately your responsibility to ensure your brand is running in safe environments. 

  3. Request a domain report. If you have a brand safety vendor on your campaign, ask them for a domain report. This will show you where your ads are running. What you find may surprise you.

That’s it for us this time. See you soon!

Claire and Nandini

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