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How brands and marketers can play a part in stamping out fake news


How brands and marketers can play a part in stamping out fake news


Brands and agencies must accept their role in the age of fake news sites, and can play a role in stopping it by eliminating its source of funding, concludes a new report.

Technology and market research company Forrester has released a report defining fake news and outlining what marketers must do to protect their ad spend and brand reputations.

By placing trust in automated ad-buying strategies, brands risk their reputations and their ad-spend going to fake news sites generated for no reason other than to generate traffic, concludes the report titled ‘Fake News: More Proof that Advertisers Must Choose Quality Over Quantity’.

The report advises ‘fake news’ should not be a catch-all term, and that marketers must diligently act in their own best interests and media planning in a programmatic ecosystem which makes it easy for low-quality inventory to flourish.

Fake news is not to be confused with satirical news sites, opinion sites or any other slanted coverage of events. The report breaks its definition into three key facets:

  • Fake news has nothing to do with politics: While the fake news scandal has surrounded political issues such as the US Presidential election, it is not politically focused. It’s point is to generate large audiences to make money. Various fake news sites about politics have been successful as politics is a hot-button topic.
  • it is intended to defraud advertisers,
  • it exploits ad networks: programmatic ad spend follows traffic, including that of fake news sites.


So, how can those who invest in programmatic avoid their ads appearing on fake sites?

Forrester recommends balancing context with automation.

  • Acknowledge the problem and your role in facilitating it: marketers have embraced programmatic for its efficient, accurate media buying, but place trust in others to manage that aspect of their advertising. The only way to protect their brands from fake news is to get more involved in programmatic decision-making. Mitigate exposure to fake news by taking a more active role in managing whitelists and blacklists of media sites.
  • Establish whether your brand values must guide your media strategy: Do your brand values trump the ability to reach an audience at scale? The report uses the example of the controversy Kellogg’s and Nissan faced when advertising on Breitbart (not a fake news site, a far-right news and opinion website). Kellogg’s responded they “regularly work with media-buying partners to ensure ads do not appear on sites that aren’t aligned with (its) values as a company.”
    Nissan, instead, advertises “in a variety of sites in order to reach as many consumers as possible.”
  • Treat publishers like partners: publisher relationships have taken a back seat to data and technology partnerships since programmatic came to the fore. Ensure you are buying high quality, controllable digital inventory through stronger publisher partnerships, and demand transparency from these partners about where your ads are running.


Related: Four hot trends in marketing automation in 2017 »

Fake news and social media

Facebook, Google, Twitter and others have taken steps to ensure fake news purveyors can’t buy ads on the platform to drive clicks to their misleading content. Facebook in particular, after long washing its hands of any responsibility to weed out fake news, is now working on ways to differentiate between legitimate news and other types of content.

Forrester expects social networks will not limit users’ ability to share whatever content they please, so instead of platform-led censorship, the ill effects of fake news will more likely be mitigated as:

  • Education: the rigorous fact-checking involved in real news outlets alone can separate conjecture from news. As the lines between fake news, controversies triggered by tweets and actual journalism continue to blur, more news outlets will find their bottom lines under pressure. In the US, The News Guild, a union representing 25,000 journalists and media workers, will take up the PR fight educating consumers what makes journalists different from bloggers. Simply put, if consumers know the difference between fake and real news, they’ll stop clicking on fake news links.
  • Mainstream media companies create new business models: a fall in readership and ad revenue for traditional news sites has led to a trend in click-bait style headlines, which does nothing to help the distinctions between journalism and fiction.
  • Social networks optimise for their communities; some become unrecognisable: Given that social networks make their own choices about what to allow and what not to, distinctions among them will sharpen. Facebook, as an example, can afford to welcome all points of view because its sheer size insulates it from negative effects of vehement disagreements popping up on its platform.




Image copyright: stevanovicigor / 123RF Stock Photo

Ben Ice

Ben Ice was MarketingMag editor from August 2017 - February 2020

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