The lure of programmatic advertising and digital banners bought on large banner networks wasn't just a godsend for the lazy. It literally shaped what the web and news became. I have warned about this several times, as publications grew dependant on clicks they also grew addicted into getting them, shaping headlines to be clickbait far removed from reality. Gossip gathered more eyeballs than facts. When traditional journalism, with factual headlines and objective reporting with equal time couldn't entice people to come and read, infotainment devoured the web. Even trade sites discussing advertising and creativity were affected. Advertisers became more interested in hoaxing the news with their viral ad for more "earned media," than allow us to tell you the names of the hard working creatives who made it.
Boycotting advertisers when their ads sponsored infotainment that the consumers disagreed with soon became the norm. People have boycotted brands that appeared on Rush Limbaugh's show, and now there's even an app for boycotting any business that has any connection to Trump. In 2014 when Gamergate appeared, brands like Adobe got dragged into it because Gawker had a page claiming that they were one of many brands who sponsored them - even though they never did. My advice then was for brands to stay away, but with how we buy ads today that becomes difficult to do.
For each layer of third party connected to your site, there's a terms of service clause a publication might break. As you know, Adland got banned from Google Adsense for writing articles critical of sexist advertising. Not once, not twice, but three times. Using the images to illustrate what we perceive is wrong with the ads is apparently worse than the ad itself - which can still run on Google's ad network. That ad networks get hacked to show porn or infect your computer with a virus matters little to the networks. Digital paid media is a fraud with far reaching consequences.
It's not just Google Adsense that bans people. This week AppNexus, a major advertising technology provider, has barred Breitbart News from its network "because the conservative online publisher violated its hate speech rules."
The digital ad firm decided the publication had breached a policy against content that incites violence, said AppNexus spokesman Joshua Zeitz.
"We did a human audit of Breitbart and determined there were enough articles and headlines that cross that line, using either coded or overt language," he said.
Other networks will not be leaving Breitbart:
Other ad tech companies whose networks work with Breitbart defended their partnerships as evidence of the web's openness. Ad firm OpenX is "proud to support a free and vibrant internet," said spokeswoman Lekha Rao.
"We do not make it our business to police editorial content," said Jeffrey Hirsch, Chief Marketing Officer for Pubmatic, which offers tracking tools that appear on Breitbart.com.
AppNexus, however, frames its decision as maintaining standards for the marketers whose ads run next to Breitbart's headlines. "We would ban this as quickly as a site that has pornography and violence," said Zeitz.
The ease with which an ad buyer can literally stalk a consumer across the web on the large networks are why you find awkward banner ads for foot powder next to news about severed feet and those shoes that you looked at once are stalking you from your gossip rag to your political news site. This digital ad stalking" has been creatively used by brands like Post-It. However, the winners are not the brands, who may appear on sites that are harmful to their brand image, but the ad networks. It is Google who makes money off piracy and human trafficking, not the creators of music or writers of blog content where these ads appear. The online ad industry is culpable for creating the clickbait mentality and feeding piracy at the same time. But it's not just the ad networks that can effect the publications voice. Digiday points out Breitbart also uses content recommendation modules from Taboola and ZergNet, well-known for spreading and encouraging even more clickbait to attract traffic.
Reggie Renner, co-founder and CEO of ZergNet, said that ZergNet doesn’t make money off Breitbart. He said that Breitbart participates in ZergNet’s free audience development platform where publishers can share links with other sites of their choosing.
As for Breitbart’s inclusion in the network, Renner punted responsibility to the publishers, saying, “If sites are offended by other sites, they can simply choose to not work with them. In order to operate such a large network, we need to give some of the quality control over to the publishers to decide.”
Some brands have heard the consumers and in an effort to take control over where they appear have decided to remove all ads from Breitbart directly. As Breitbart themselves report Kellogg's has dumped them and thus "Declares Hate for 45,000,000 Readers."
“We regularly work with our media-buying partners to ensure our ads do not appear on sites that aren’t aligned with our values as a company,” said Kellogg’s flak Kris Charles. “We recently reviewed the list of sites where our ads can be placed and decided to discontinue advertising on Breitbart.com. We are working to remove ads from that site.”
Kellogg’s offered no examples of how Breitbart’s 45 million monthly readers fail to align with the breakfast maker’s values.
The digital revolution once promised a new way of controlling advertising targeting. No longer relegated to shotgunning ads on the most widely seen media, brands could target niches and tailor their messages to the consumer as well as the place where it appeared. In the end we're now shotgunning online by stalking the clicks and eyeballs - forcing publications to become flytraps of consumers rather than sources of information. This carries huge economic incentives for the media buyers and networks which perpetuate this situation. But as we keep seeing, this not only comes with consequences, but it leaves publications and readers all the poorer for it.