Fake news costing advertisers reputation, ad dollars

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Fake new is news today. Since the US presidential began in the US last year, fake news took center stage.

However, a new report from Forrester titled “Fake News: More Proof That Advertisers Must Choose Quality Over Quantity” noted that the real targets are advertisers and their purse strings — not the readers.

It is also creating a massive headache as ads are running into danger of being placed alongside news that can hurt brand reputations and even derail well-thought out ad campaigns.

Not all are fake

So how do you address fake news? The answer lies in understanding what it is.

"Fake news is about manufactured facts; biased news is about opinions. Fake news pretends to be stating facts, which may mislead readers because they can't tell these facts are real or not. But readers understand opinions are not facts, they can choose to agree or don't agree with the opinions," said Xiaofeng Wang, Forrester’s senior analyst and B2C marketing analyst based in Asia Pacific told CMO Innovation.

More importantly, fake news does not intend to be political. Instead, fake news creators are building an audience for money. Politics is just the flavor of the year. It could be any subject matter as long as it attracts eyeballs. Attract enough of them, and you can attract the interest of advertisers.

“Fake news generators work hard to appear legitimate at the same time as they strive to be provocative in order to attract attention and audiences and clicks, because that's how they generate money: through audience-based buying,” said Susan Bidel, Forrester senior analyst and co-author of the report.

Exploiting opacity

Fake news is also exploiting a critical problem with today's programmatic ad platforms: they are not transparent. This opacity can see several fake news sites, for example, generate a significant number of shares, get favorably ranked, and then see advertisements placed alongside them.

Because the process is opaque and almost instantaneous, it can generate a lot of money before advertisers even know about it. Social media’s inability to verify news is another problem.

“Facebook had a team of human editors reviewing news entries, but disbanded that team in late August [2016]. It was only after that team was disbanded that the fake news problem took off. They have struggled to identify their proper role in dealing with the problem. They do not believe they should be in the position of censoring their users,” said Bidel.   

However, Asian social media platforms are combating this menace more successfully. The main reason is that fake news is old news in this part of the world.  

“Social media in the region are more experienced to deal with fake news issue, for example, WeChat and Weibo. Weibo launched the anti-fake news/rumors feature that labels fake news in the timeline with an official notice to warn readers a few years ago. But Facebook just started testing the fake news filter feature in Germany at the end of last year,” Wang noted.

Be proactive

While the ongoing battle between fake news creators and news aggregators rage on, Forrester advises advertisers to be more proactive.

“Demand transparency from media partners. Today, marketers have little visibility into agency-managed campaign processes. Marketers must demand greater transparency from your programmatic partners about where your ads are running,” said Wang.

“Urge the digital advertising ecosystem representatives to set standards and require all participants to adhere to those standards,” Bidel added.

Wang also urged advertisers to treat publishers like partners. She reasoned that stronger publisher partnerships could help them to buy "high quality, controllable digital inventory." 

Programmatic – the problem and solution

However, programmatic ad platforms still pose a bigger problem—especially when they are not transparent. Nevertheless, advertisers looking to maximize their ad spend still prefer them.

“Yes, in Asia advertisers prefer more through programmatic direct — a way for advertisers to eliminate the middle men and buy programmatic inventory directly from the supplier. For two reasons: One, better quality content is a limited resource and direct buy can help them to guarantee more of such content. And send, large advertisers are trying to cut middle men because another middle layer means more markup for marketers,” said Wang.

Bidel argued that these platforms can help to reduce fake news.

“Private marketplaces and programmatic direct deals allow marketers and publishers to use programmatic tools to connect and transact directly. Such controlled strategies should starve fake news sites of ad revenue and, thereby, keep fake news to a minimum,” she said.

But for this to occur, ad exchanges need to become more transparent.

If marketers step up and demand transparency, exchanges will meet the challenge, and the entire industry will be better for it,” said Bidel.

Further reading:

CtrlShift launches data-driven solution suite

Adobe buy signals the collision of martech and adtech worlds

Data driven marketing is about the customer