According to a new report from the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR), big brand marketers are reluctant players in the world of online misinformation—what we now call “fake news.”
The research reveals that nearly 50 percent of marketers do not know where their ads are running, due to programmatic advertising (or ad tech) strategies that tag and follow people throughout the internet. Although digital advertisers, marketers and social media managers appear aware of the problem and concerned about the possible negative impact to their brands due to being associated with fake news, they seem unsure and ambivalent about what should change—and reluctant to alter their own business practices to rectify the problem.
“Marketers are only just coming to terms with their role in facilitating the fake news crisis,” said SNCR fellow Jeff Pundyk, author of the study and chief strategy officer at Techonomy, in a news release. “The study shows they have real concerns about brand safety, but are reluctant to change their business practices.”
Fake news threatens brand safety
The survey gathered responses from those responsible for managing advertising, paid content marketing, paid social, native and/or programmatic advertising. It explored these professionals’ awareness and attitudes regarding their contribution to the problem of fake news—particularly how ad-supported media models enable it—and what they plan to do about it.
To help survey participants fully understand the meaning of “fake news,” and enable them to consider their responses to the questions more accurately, SNCR used this definition for survey purposes: “Content that lacks trusted sources and often uses sensational headlines to encourage the consumption and spread of unverified or false information. It can be left- or right-leaning. Such content typically masquerades as legitimate news reports—and is often supported by ads, sometimes without the knowledge of the advertiser.”
Key findings include:
- 87 percent of respondents believe it is moderately likely to very likely that programmatic advertising could place sponsors next to fake news content
- 88 percent of respondents believe adjacency to fake news could be problematic for an advertiser, with 95 percent of those marketers believing it erodes customer trust in the brand
- Almost 70 percent say they have personally seen fake news on digital or social channels within the past month of them taking the survey
- 86 percent cite editorial content as the source of fake news
- 59 percent cite native advertising or paid content marketing as the source of fake news
- If their ads appear adjacent to fake news, more than 80 percent believe their brands will be harmed by the affiliation
- Nearly 70 percent say they have a negative or very negative impression of the advertiser in those positions
When asked who should take the lead in solving the problem, the highest proportion of respondents say publishers and the social media platforms
Although nearly 80 percent of respondents say they would “probably” or “definitely” reduce their level of spend with partners that include unreliable sites, they are ambivalent about joining “private markets,” closed exchanges that include only known and vetted sites. They are split on returning to direct relationships with brand-safe publishers, with 46 percent saying they “probably” would return to premium publishers and another 30 percent saying they were unsure.
“Advertising models have helped the world’s most valuable brands grow, but at the same time they have created a murky underbelly of misinformation that is threatening our most valuable brands, communities, and democratic institutions,” said Jen McClure, SNCR founder and chair of the Advisory Board, in the release. “Understanding these negative consequences is the first step in developing strategies to mitigate the problem.”
The survey polled more than 100 advertisers, marketers and social media managers, and was conducted between August and November.