Many advertisers find themselves working damage control after their ads run in TV programs or online in an environment that is offensive or objectionable to many of their consumers. In the more recent case of Fox News and Bill O'Reilly, after he was publically alleged to have sexually harassed several women, advertisers decided to pull their ads. Then, because it hit them in the pocketbook, Fox took action and let him go with a big payout. This is not the only kind of situation to be problematic for advertisers. When Fox's Sean Hannity began promoting a conspiracy theory about the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich, a few advertisers moved to the sidelines. What is most interesting is that these matters almost never result in a loss of audience. There is growing evidence, however, and hard data that points to the fact that the contextual environment surrounding ads plays a large part in how viewers feel about the advertiser.
Do advertisers really know the content of the programs they buy? Most of the time the answer is no -- and this is certainly not only limited to TV. As we move with greater alacrity and volume to online advertising the problem only gets worse.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, it was reported that in the U.K. several advertisers pulled their ads from YouTube when they began to appear next to videos promoting "extremist ideology." There are still many online ads (whether display or video) that run on sites that push the envelope in bad taste. In most cases, advertisers have no idea where their ads appear.
This is not unique to only a few cases, and it is not just about Fox. It is more widely occurring as packaged TV buys and online ad networks bought programmatically are based on media efficiency without regard for the effects of so-called "quality." Research also shows that when the ad and the content are more compatible the response to the advertising is more favorable. By the way, as an aside, the industry has also been looking into bot fraud for some time, where publishers purchase and sell online impressions without actual viewers seeing the ads.
There is still no comprehensive way for advertisers to know in advance all of the content for every show, host or website. But it's something that needs to be solved. I think the responsibility lies primarily with the provider: The online publisher, the TV network, the local station, etc. They need to install certain safeguards wherever possible and, if it is discovered that the content is obviously contrary to established norms, the advertiser should be informed about what is found as soon as possible.
This is not easy because opinions or host behavior out of sight (or on camera in real time) cannot infringe, even tangentially, on first amendment rights. Policing objectionable content, however, must be part of the selling process as a matter of policy. It will also take technology (such as AI or other filters) to help, since the task is prodigious, especially online. Google is already taking several steps and others will follow.
Monitoring of content and ads placed within should be a continuous process. Otherwise advertisers will become disenchanted with the medium at best and withdrawn at worst. That's not good for anyone on either side of the table.
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