Advertising Digital Publishing
4 mins read

Only half of advertisers believe legitimate news doesn’t pose a significant brand safety risk

Following 250+ interviews conducted in October 2022 with marketer and agency executives directly involved in the media brand selection decision, Advertiser Perceptions found that 75% agreed that brands need more oversight and control over where their ads are placed, and who profits from those placements. Sarah Bolton of Advertiser Perceptions discusses how publishers can assist the process…

Both misinformation (inaccurate or non-factual content believed to be true by those who share it) and disinformation (intentionally misleading or false information designed to advance a specific agenda) are issues consumers, publishers, social media networks and advertisers must wrestle with on a daily basis.

Determining what qualifies as misinformation can be thorny, however, and many advertisers have shied away from being arbiters of information integrity, relying on legacy brand-safety solutions as their first line of defense against inadvertently funding the disinformation ecosystem… with varying results. 

To more proactively address the inadvertent funding of disinformation, industry working groups and verification services have advanced clearer definitions of misinformation: In its definition,  GARM (Global Alliance for Responsible Media) describes misinformation as “the presence of verifiably false or willfully misleading content that is directly connected to user or societal harm.”  NewsGuard, an online safety verification solution provider, further defines false claims as “such that a reasonable person taking care to get the facts right would be unlikely to make the false claim.” 

“Verifiably false” and “willfully misleading” are concepts that may not be quickly and easily determined by a typical advertiser or ad technology tool, but they can be proven and adjudicated in courts of law, as the current Dominion lawsuit against Fox News and other outlets demonstrates. Advertisers will be watching the outcome of this landmark case carefully, and looking to apply similar rigor and good-faith standards to their practices and partnerships going forward.

In the meantime, advertiser skittishness and uncertainty around controversial and harmful content has caused serious challenges for legitimate publishers. In fact, our most recent Trust in Advertising Report found that half of US advertisers believe that legitimate news poses a significant brand safety risk. 

As advertising is the primary vehicle through which many publishers make their content free to consumers, this information crisis is an alarm bell for the industry: When advertisers pull away, reputable publishers can’t fund that content production, which limits the amount of legitimate news that consumers are able to access. Further, if advertisers instead push dollars into more opaque social and programmatic content ecosystems instead of news journalism, they risk funding content creators that  are pushing high-velocity disinformation and misinformation online.

The sky is not necessarily falling for publishers, though. There are still steps that legitimate publishers can take to allay the buy side’s concerns about advertising and keep them funding reputable content.

1. Take a Public Stance

In today’s environment, publishers that are clear on their journalistic standard policies and focused on combating the rise of misinformation will come out on top. As a first step, media companies could look to join industry organizations like GARM or make pledges to only work with ad tech vendors that partner with misinformation verification companies. Publishers could even go as far as taking the scores that a company like NewsGuard gives them, absorb the criticism and make tangible efforts to improve. Advertisers need to see their media partners care about the issue and are making it a priority to address.

2. Build 1:1 Relationships With Buy-Side

Our Trust in Advertising report also found that 75% of agencies and brands believe they need more oversight and control over where their ads are placed and a better understanding of who profits from those placements. So much so that 3-in-4 advertisers are willing to advertise only on manually selected inclusion lists. This is encouraging news for premium publishers. They can re-focus on building trusted one-to-one relationships with agencies and marketers, underscoring their publication’s commitment to journalistic standards and content quality.

In tandem, publishers should evangelize the benefits of inclusion lists. They should not be shy about advocating for manually selected inclusion lists as a best practice on the buy side, and ensuring their brand is a “must-include,” regardless of whether advertisers are accessing their inventory via direct or programmatic channels. 

3. Partner with Brand Safety Technology

When it comes to misinformation, most advertisers think their verification solutions can distinguish legitimate news from non-reputable content, but their confidence in disinformation filters is decreasing over time. This again indicates that a layer of human decision-making is a must. Publishers should be creating relationships with brand safety vendors — not only to better understand what advertisers are wary of, but also to ensure that any human-decisioning on the vendors’ part also accounts for the media company’s best interest.

4. Provide Richer Context and Audience Insights

It’s not enough to show that media brands have quality inventory and abide by transparent practices, they also need to provide enough contextual and audience targeting signals to demonstrate why it is worth investing in them. Publishers have an advantage because they have a direct relationship with their audience and can collect a great deal of first-party data. This allows them to effectively showcase the value of their audiences (and therefore inventory) to brands — and ultimately help drive performance and ROI alongside brand-safe and fact-based content.

When deciding who to partner with, advertisers must carefully consider how media outlets guard against misinformation while also delivering on expected ad performance. In response, publishers must position themselves accordingly. By being outspoken about combating misinformation, building a human connection with advertisers, investing in the same misinformation tools and technology that advertisers are using to combat it, and prioritizing performance, publishers can better ensure their media brands are the ones atop advertisers’ shortlists.

Sarah Bolton
EVP, Business Intelligence, Advertiser Perceptions

Advertiser Perceptions is the leader in providing research-based strategic market intelligence to the complex and dynamic media, advertising, and ad tech industries.