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For Brand Integrity, Know the Company You Keep

If you’re a busy marketer, you juggle multiple competing priorities daily. The biggest one is often “we need more site traffic,” followed immediately by “but only the right kind of traffic.” It’s no wonder that programmatic ad buying has become the default since it usually equals quick, cheap volume. Priority one is met, and busy teams tell themselves that if they get enough site visits, priority two will take care of itself. On the surface, it makes sense, but dig deeper and you find that what it makes is a mess. Marketing teams probably have no idea the potential harm their brand is experiencing because of programmatic ad buys.

In the past couple of years, the spotlight of public attention has focused on an issue that has existed for some time, but about which the average web user knew little until the wake of the 2016 election — namely, the proliferation of sites on the Internet that publish content of questionable origin and veracity. It’s too bad that so much of this gets lumped as “fake news,” because the issue is bigger than that. Sometimes these sites really are just fake content, with no identifiable attribution or bylines. But sometimes they host explicitly racist or socially incendiary opinion content, packaged as news. Still other sites redirect from a clickbait headline to content that is so poorly written the user immediately realizes that the whole site exists for just one purpose: to overwhelm her senses with advertising messages, using just enough of a teaser for her to click Next, whereupon she’s presented with a new page filled with more ads.

And that gets us to the root of the problem: advertising. Most of these sites exist solely for the purpose of generating impressions. All a publisher has to do is link his site to any one of many programmatic ad networks, and presto. Literally any content he publishes, no matter how inaccurate, offensive or boring, is suddenly making money.

The web’s biggest advertisers have known about this issue for years, and they still don’t know what to do about it. True, Clickbait sites have come under additional scrutiny recently from the financial angle, because of the steeply rising cost of ad fraud, but rarely does the problem get addressed from the angle of brand integrity.

That began to change after the 2016 election when a crew of ad industry veterans launched the Twitter handle Sleeping Giants. Alarmed by the rise of sites promoting white nationalist and misogynist rhetoric, founder Matt Rivitz and his team began to tweet ad screenshots directly to advertisers, shots capturing their brand juxtaposed next to headlines such as There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women in Tech, They Just Suck at Interviews and Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy. I’m not trying to be political here. If these headlines reflect your views, I won’t try to change your mind. But big advertisers have a set of priorities that go beyond politics, and the question they were being asked was simple: do you know what kind of content your brand is sponsoring?

The answer was no. These brands, most of which promote their diversity initiatives for favorable publicity, would not sponsor questionable news stories directly. Instead, they bought impressions, presumably via an agency or third party, and thus wound up inadvertently promoting sexist and racially insensitive opinion pieces on content farm sites. Until they were alerted by Sleeping Giants, many had no idea.

Which brings us back to the original question. Do you know what kind of content your brand is sponsoring?

If you’re a marketer who cares about brand integrity, you probably should have at least some idea of the kind of content posted by the sites your brand is landing on. If you’re a marketer who buys advertising programmatically, it’s likely that obtaining this information is difficult, particularly if you face internal issues around the management and organization of campaign tracking codes.

You see the gravity of the problem. You might be surprised at the direction the solution can come from. Enter effective tracking code management. Brands that overcome the hurdle of tracking code management will gain real insight about where on the web their site traffic is coming from. These brands will be able to sync up — in a real way, beyond talk — the sources of their site traffic and subsequent buying behavior on their sites.

Who knows? Maybe yours will be one of the rare brands to successfully convert click traffic from content farms into qualified buyers. A more likely scenario is that you’ll discover that some number of the clicks your campaigns generate are junk, and (if you’ve managed your tracking codes effectively) you’ll be able to pinpoint either the sites that generated those impressions or the agencies that sold them to you. Either way, wouldn’t you feel safer knowing? We’ve entered a world where brands can no longer credibly plead ignorance about this issue, and customers are watching to see if a brand’s behavior matches its PR spin.

Claravine can help. We can get your organization over the hurdle of consistent tracking code management, so you can reach those deeper insights and know with confidence which sites and agencies are referring qualified traffic to your team. Give us a call.

Author: Joseph Riddle
September 12, 2018

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