Slave to the algorithm

Sendt av: Tasneem Mahbub 22/05/2017

One problem is that ads online are often placed by a computer algorithm, which looks for keywords when deciding where to place advertising. However, it doesn’t always have an eye for the all-important context of an ad, and that can sometimes make advertisers look insensitive or worse, plain ridiculous. British satirical magazine Private Eye now runs a regular column called ‘Malgorithms’, which points out examples where online ads have been placed in unfortunate and unadvantageous positions. Take this Yahoo News headline: “Business drivers risking safety by not taking breaks”. The ad placed next to it? “Brilliant funeral insurance sweeping the UK”. Or from Wales Online: “Two Men Killed In Microlight Aircraft Crash” next to an ad reading: “Fly Cardiff To Anglesey With Van Air Europe.”

Innocent mistakes perhaps, but a recent investigation by UK newspaper The Times showed a more worrying trend. It found that ‘programmatic advertising’ software had led to major brands having adverts placed on politically extremist and pornographic sites3. On YouTube, for instance, an advert for the new Mercedes E-Class saloon runs next to a pro-Isis video that’s been viewed more than 115,000 times, while the luxury holiday brand Sandals Resorts is advertised next to a video promoting al-Shabaab, an African jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda.

FAKE NEWS: Islamic extremists set fire to Dortmund church In January: Breitbart News claimed that a mob chanting “Allahu akbar” had set fire to a Dortmund church on New Year’s Eve. In fact, a fire lasting just 12 minutes occurred after netting on scaffolding was set alight by a stray firecracker.

Increasingly, marketers are expressing concern with the lack of control or transparency involved in online advertising. Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard labelled the online media supply chain “murky at best and fraudulent at worst”. 

Do you know where your ads are?

Of course, there have been calls for more controls over which stories and links are placed where online, but do the digital media giants really have the motivation to change anything while the revenue is still rolling in? “The people that really have the power to stop it are Facebook, Twitter and Google,” says Laurent. “But I’m not sure they really want to do much about it. They make some efforts but don’t touch the core of the business, the algorithm, which is putting blogs or opinions in the same place as you expect to find news and presenting them as facts rather than opinions.” The result is that your commercial messages could end up anywhere.

“Automated buys really chase the audience and not necessarily the context,” John Montgomery, Brand Safety Vice President at top US media buyer GroupM told Wired recently. “You have to be able to count on your ad tech partners to maintain some kind of marketplace quality,” AppNexus Communications VP Josh Zeitz said recently. “Because if it’s completely unregulated, your client’s ads could show up anywhere.” Of course, there are no guarantees that this can’t occasionally happen in print media, but in survey after survey, advertising in print is consistently shown to be more trusted by the public across the globe than its digital equivalent.

A Nielsen survey last year found that ads in magazines and newspapers in the UK were still trusted by more than 50% of those surveyed, whereas search engine ad results gained only 38% trust and social network ads only 34%4. An even bigger difference was found in a German study for Gesellschaft Public Relations Agenturen (GPRA), who found that 54% trusted newspaper and magazine ads compared to just 16% for advertising on websites5. 

FAKE NEWS: Dutch party leader demonstrated with radical Muslims: Before the March elections in The Netherlands, Freedom Party MP Geert Wilders tweeted a photoshopped image of rival party leader Alexander Pechtold rallying with “Hamas terrorists” holding up signs saying, “Shariah for the Netherlands.” The photo was actually from the UK in 2009.