Apr 15 2022
Clare McKinley

What is Responsible Advertising?


Brands are Inadvertently Funding Toxic Online Content

Mis- and dis-information, deepfakes, and fake news—the past several years have been marked by a proliferation of phrases that identify different varieties of untrustworthy online content. Events like Russian meddling in the 2016 election via social media and the spread of COVID-19 misinformation have opened the public’s eyes to the disastrous impacts of toxic internet content. It's a problem that impacts everyone, and one that isn’t going away any time soon.

Brands play a particularly tricky role in the problem because the internet runs on their advertising dollars. Since the inception of programmatic advertising, it’s become the norm for marketers to scale their campaigns by spreading their digital spend across thousands of websites. In 2019, the Global Disinformation Index estimated that ad tech companies spent $235 million every year running ads on sites characterized by misinformation.

Why are sites with toxic content attractive to programmatic algorithms? Andrew Casale, CEO of Index Exchange, explained it this way: “Fake news sites have really, really low prices and rates and tons of scale, so it’s almost like a drug.”

Consumers Are Rejecting Irresponsible Brands

We've entered a new era of advertising—one where consumer trust and brand safety are of the utmost importance.

Consumers now expect brands to be more aware of who they are supporting—any not supporting—with this digital spend. In a 2020 survey from the Brand Safety Institute, almost 90% of respondents stated that it’s very or somewhat important for advertisers to ensure their ads don’t run near dangerous, offensive, or inappropriate content. Similarly, the IAB found that 55% of consumers are less likely to buy from a brand that advertises alongside fake news. And, according to Gartner, 81% of consumers won’t buy from a brand they don't trust.

The Responsible Advertising Imperative

It’s clear that the programmatic landscape must evolve to stop funding propaganda, hate speech, and mis- and dis-information online. In a 2021 Advertiser Perceptions Trust Report, 54% of advertisers said they’d change how and where they spend media budgets to avoid funding disinformation. Brands like Mastercard are leading the way, with CMO Raja Rajamannar stating all the way back in 2016 that he’d “Rather pay a little premium as a brand and go for verified sites.”

This is what brand responsibility looks like: taking care to spend your media dollars in places that don’t fund hate or falsities. Basis DSP, for example, empowers users to tap into NOBL, a tool that uses natural language processing and machine learning algorithms to categorize sites as high- or low-quality. High-quality pages are made available for advertising, while the rest are avoided, thus automating the process of vetting websites for brands.

Whatever tools marketers use to ensure that their ads run on reputable sites, one thing is clear: brand responsibility will be a critical element of advertising as the internet continues to evolve.

To learn more about how brands can protect themselves and forge a safer internet through ethical advertising, check out our recent webinar: Empowering Responsible Advertising.

Watch the Webinar