- February 2, 2022

It's time to divest from the misinformation ecosystem: Why advertising responsibly on quality news makes good business sense

David Kovach
David Kovach
Head of Market Innovation
Matt Skibinski
Matt Skibinski
General Manager
Nate Leaf
Nate Leaf
Senior Director, Activation Product Management

As we enter a new year with an evolving media environment and huge political ramifications at play, it has become increasingly risky for advertisers to align safely within reliable news content.

Online misinformation has moved beyond being a trend or phase to a crucial issue that negatively affects buy-side advertisers, sell-side publishers, and readers consuming content. Brands and agencies that inadvertently place ads programmatically on websites peddling misinformation and disinformation can find themselves the subject of bad press or boycotts. Worse, they can find themselves inadvertently contradicting their brand’s values and/or potentially losing a client.

The brand safety industry has done its best, through keyword blocking and artificial intelligence, to mitigate ad placements on misinformation content, but recent research by our two companies, Comscore and NewsGuard, found that brands are still sending a staggering $2.6 billion annually to misinformation publishers.

This includes categories of misinformation that can cause clear, immediate harm to readers: According to NewsGuard’s research, more than 4,000 top brands advertised on COVID-19 misinformation websites during the height of the pandemic, and more than 1,600 brands inadvertently placed ads on ‘Stop the Steal’ sites publishing election misinformation in the lead up to the January 6, 2021 protests at the U.S. Capitol.

In nearly all cases, these ad placements are inadvertent, part of broadly targeted programmatic campaigns, rather than intentionally placed. Nonetheless, the risk to brands’ reputations remains significant, as does the societal impact of billions in ad dollars flowing to misinformation publishers each year.

As the pace of advertising picks up this political season what can brands do to advertise responsibly on news sites?

What constitutes quality journalism? Just ask the journalists.

First and foremost, brands can take greater responsibility for where their ad placements appear by relying on independent, credible journalism organizations to identify publishers that repeatedly publish misinformation and avoid running ads on those websites. As part of our partnership announced earlier this year, Comscore has integrated NewsGuard’s ratings for thousands of news and information websites into its contextual programmatic targeting solution, enabling any brand to avoid ad placements on sites flagged as unreliable by NewsGuard with the click of a button in their DSP of choice.

NewsGuard’s ratings are conducted by a team of experienced journalists using nine apolitical criteria of journalistic practice. These ratings are backed by a rigorous review and editing process with multiple checks and balances—including contacting each publisher to give them a chance to respond or address any issues raised by NewsGuard’s review. This kind of transparency and accountability is the key to a credible, fair and trustworthy process.

Adler-Swanberg Director, Marketplace Quality at MediaMath, notes how important it is for brands to address this issue: “Failing to address and break the financing of misinformation and disinformation proliferated on the internet and across digital media threatens our ability to govern ourselves, global stability, and the future of the internet as a force for the democratization of legitimate commerce and civil discourse. We can and must all play a part in the solution.”

Then on the issue of addressability, Tom Rosenstiel, the Eleanor Merrill Visiting Professor on the Future of Journalism at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, echoed this sentiment: "The problem of misinformation is more like fighting crime than it is fixing a plumbing problem. It requires constant attention, and you will never solve it. But to do it well will require better techniques and better technology than we have now."

NewsGuard’s transparent, journalist-driven rating process helps avoid these limitations by relying on human intelligence, rather than solely on artificial intelligence.

All Ships Rise with High-Quality News

Advertising responsibly is not just about avoiding misinformation. Brands, agencies, and even publishers have a responsibility to invest, partner and transact with high-quality journalism.

The good news? Recent data suggests that investing media dollars in ads on trustworthy news sites is not just socially responsible. It’s also fiscally responsible, resulting in better campaign performance and efficiency.

A case study published by NewsGuard and IPG Mediabrands earlier this year tracked the impact on campaign performance when a brand, relying on NewsGuard’s trust ratings, added thousands of trustworthy news sources certified by NewsGuard to its campaign’s allow list. The sources added included thousands of local news outlets, high quality digital-only publications, and outlets serving communities that are often overlooked by mainstream media sources, including the Black, LGBTQ+, Asian, and Latino communities.

Specifically, the brand tracked in the case study saw an 8% decrease in CPMs and a 143% higher click-through rate from the new, quality news sites it added to its campaign inventory, representing significantly greater campaign efficiency.

“This is a rare instance in which brands don’t have to choose between doing good and doing well,” said Steven Brill, Co-CEO of NewsGuard. “We know from the data that advertising on trusted news isn’t just good for the world and for democracy--it’s also just good business.” “What brand wouldn’t want lower costs and better performance for an ad campaign--especially if they can help combat misinformation in the process,” Brill added.

This sentiment is gaining traction with those responsible for protecting their brands, as reflected in this recent quote from Joshua Lowcock, Chief Digital Officer at UM and Global Brand Safety Officer at IPG Mediabrands, who said, “We’re committed to providing our clients with brand-safe, brand-suitable ad placements while also ensuring they can reach the engaged, committed audiences on news content safely and responsibly if they choose to do so.”

This integration with Newsguard is just the latest misinformation initiative from Comscore. After launching its own automated misinformation detection solution in 2020, Comscore recognized the need for a multi-vector solution that incorporated human-reviewed data. By adding NewsGuard data to Comscore’s contextual engine processing, it ensures that trillions of programmatic requests are monitored for misinformation every month.

Take action today to reach your ideal targets leading up to the 2022 midterm elections

Agencies and brands can activate on brand-safe, contextually suitable inclusion and exclusion segments directly in their DSP by choosing from eight NewsGuard-branded segments available in Comscore’s contextual targeting solution.

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