Avoiding Kellogg’s digital ad placement backlash

Reading the newspaper at breakfast

Avoiding Kellogg’s digital ad placement backlash

The rise of fake news and alt-right websites, Breitbart News for example, have caught several prominent brands, including Kellogg’s, in a furor over advertising standards.

Kellogg’s advertisements on Breitbart.com led to a massive social media uproar and threats of a boycott. The cereal company has since removed the ads and apologized (which, in turn, led to an anti-Kellogg’s campaign from the alt-right), but the real concern for the marketing teams is why they were placed there in the first place.

While Kellogg’s does have an affinity for little green frogs, responsibility for this ad placement lies with an automated online advertising network. Programmatic ads work on an auction system whereby the placement of the advertisement often isn’t known in advance.

Basically, it works like this:  a website says, “hey I have an open spot here”, and the world’s fastest auction is held to determine which ad gets the placement. Brands bid against each other, and the winner pops up in the sidebar of your favorite website before you can blink. Except sometimes it’s NOT your favourite website.

This is a fundamental challenge with programmatic ads. They follow an algorithm that isn’t always intuitive, and  are unable to judge brand values against a website’s content. Choosing and controlling where a brand’s ads go it important. Most ad networks have white lists to ensure ads go only on reputable sites. However, some ad networks have strong ethical policies that don’t allow such website in their network to begin with.

Automated networks abstract the connection between a brand and its audience. It’s better to keep this crucial connection strong by understanding the audience and buying ads directly from the websites they use. Scripps Networks Digital , for example, allows brands to pick the exact websites required to target or segment by demographic criteria. This provides more control over who sees an ad and where, eliminating the possibility of a rogue algorithm making a bad placement—imagine a promo for backyard fences sitting next to an anti-immigration article.

Until Artificial Intelligence (AI) gets significantly better at understanding human nature, having a ‘real live person’ vetting brand ad placement is always a smart move.

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