January 23, 2018

Is Bashing Breitbart News Counterproductive?

Do these arguments hold up?

Ng at the Los Angeles Times got close to the problem. It’s not so much that risk-and-controversy-adverse marketers are making decisions, but that their advertising agencies and the ad exchanges on which advertising is purchased programmatically (automated, computer-to-computer real-time bidding) are making the buying decisions.

William (“Bill”) Lederer, a leading expert in programmatic media buying and selling and Chairman and CEO of MRP Advisers and its programmatic trading company, Media Trader, said in an interview, “Online programmatic buying decisions are made primarily by advertising agencies that specialize in programmatic and by ad exchanges where online inventory is bid on. The biggest ad exchange, by far, is Google’s AdX followed by Rubicon and AppNexus. The big agencies are in New York, San Francisco and Seattle, and you know how these cities voted. Ad exchanges decide which inventory to put up for sale, and in some cases it’s an arbitrary decision. For example, DoubleClick’s (Google) AdX, even though Google’s Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sergey Brin supported Hillary, makes decisions based on what’s best for Google from a business standpoint, as does Rubicon. AppNexus sometimes could play favorites, which can include political favorites.”

Programmatic has revolutionized media buying and selling. Advertisers no longer buy primarily by considering the content of the media, i.e. by looking at the editorial environment of Cosmopolitan and assuming a 18-34-year-old female audience. Instead, advertisers can programmatically buy audiences impression by impression. If a marketer wants to reach 18-34-year-old women who live in metropolitan areas in the East and West Coasts and who recently shopped for yoga outfits, the marketer can bid on a targeted impression for those women when the impression becomes available in real time.

Advertisers and their agencies can blacklist sites such as pornographic websites that are not brand safe. They do so by engaging software companies such as Integral Ad Science (IAS) that filter out objectionable and indecent content. These filtering companies scan websites and apps for objectionable text and images (nudity, e.g.).

To revisit the question of pulling advertising on Breitbart News, is it: 1) A good marketing (business) decision and 2) the right ethical decision?

From a business point of view, depending on a marketer’s target audience, cancelling advertising can be a good decision if the target audience is not available on a site and the majority of the brand’s target audience would be offended if they knew the marketer were advertising on a site. From an ethical point of view, it’s OK to pursue business interests and not advertise on a website that might not enhance a band’s image.

However, it is a bad idea for an advertiser to announce its cancellation decisions. Nothing good will happen by touting an advertising pull out, and the advertiser could be accused of  “economic censorship” and trying to influence news coverage by not supporting freedom of the press.

Also, by announcing such a decision, a marketer alienates a news medium that is sure to retaliate, as Breitbart News is doing with a pop-up ad asking viewers to sign a petition to boycott Kellogg’s products. Plus, customers and potential customers who really like and support Breitbart News are put off by negative comments like Kellogg’s. Why would a marketer alienate anyone who buys its product? Consumers’ money is green even though their politics might be red.

It’s best for a marketer to play it safe — go risk free as often as possible — and say nothing about cancelling advertising on a website or any news medium, and it’s best for an advertiser, for its ad agency and for technology enablers such as AppNexus to make decisions when buying and selling media programmatically to consider a medium’s effectiveness, efficiency and brand safety. The latter (brand safety) is a judgment that must be made by the people in charge of a brand’s image at the marketer, not by algorithms or agencies or exchanges, according to programmatic expert Lederer.

If Kellogg’s had really wanted to hurt Breitbart News, it should not have said anything up front, but if asked about its ad cancellations, Kellogg’s should not mention the news site’s values, but should mention its ineffective, unattractive, clunky website where too many ad positions are below the fold (BTF), thus limiting viewability.

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