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The next ad quality plot twist: Upholding user trust during the election season

July 20, 2020 | By Tobias Silber, CBO – GeoEdge @tobiassilber

Has 2020 been a difficult enough year for publishers? Well, get ready for another plot twist.

Election season in the U.S. has been heating up and will soon reach a boiling point. Both major political parties have amassed war chests to fuel their advertising campaigns. And this year’s race – just like a lot of things in 2020 – is shaping up to be unlike elections in the past.

Audiences in the U.S. are watching this race closely. And because new campaign messages and issues come out almost daily, there’s always something new to engage with. At the same time, the public’s trust in media is in jeopardy. Users are concerned that political content may contain misleading information. However, that concern leads them to distrust politicians and media outlets themselves.

Publishers are working hard to create content audiences can trust, engage with deeply, and return to. The last thing they need is to see misleading or deceptive ads on their pages, undermining their efforts.

A fake ad problem

Recently, publishers had a crash course in building audience trust and engagement while combating “fake ads” – ads with misleading content, or that link out to misinformation or scams. Since the pandemic began, 67% of publishers said they’ve encountered either a “significant” or “great” amount of fake ads, according to a survey we recently conducted in conjunction with Digiday.

Additionally, publishers cite ads that lead to pages unrelated to the ad creative as their top concern. Furthermore, publishers report that they’re seeing a growing number of ads that contain misleading information in the ad content.

Now publishers need to use what they’ve learned to better manage the growing onslaught of political ads. Indeed, 51% of publishers say they expect to deal with deceptive political ads this year. And that’s not just publisher pessimism speaking. Facebook and CNN have both taken the Trump campaign to task for deceptive ads. And leading news publishers continually fact-check claims made by the Trump and Biden campaigns alike.

Business breakers

Quality ad content (and not just filling ad slots) must be part of a publisher’s revenue strategy. According to the aforementioned GeoEdge survey, 49% of advertisers say they have avoided or ended business partnerships with publishers because those pubs had hosted deceptive ads. Among publishers, 49% said that when users raised complaints over deceptive ads, the consequences for their own business was “severe” or “very severe.”

We already know this. Ad content, and not just filling ad slots, is part of revenue strategy.  Nearly 70% of publishers said they “encounter a moderate or large number of deceptive ads per week.” Almost half of advertisers say they have avoided pubs, or ended relationships with publishers, because of deceptive ads.

This should raise alarms: Traffic and engagement are what give publishers value to advertisers. But advertisers want more than just good traffic. Like users themselves, they want a trustworthy product, and the ads are part of the package.

Monitoring issues

That said, far too many publishers (36%) still rely primarily on manual methods for monitoring fake, deceptive and low-quality ads. And 56% say they spend a “moderate” or “large” amount of time blocking such ads. This may seem a bit old-fashioned. After all, publishers are aware that it’s possible to automate these processes. But then again, many of those automated solutions are themselves using old-fashioned, blunt-force methods. The fact that 83% of publishers accidentally block ads that meet their standards suggests they’re using outdated methods for blocking bad ads. The cutting edge of ad quality is far beyond all that.

Publishers would be best served to seek automated solutions that do the job right the first time and don’t require ops teams to do extra clean-up work. Blunt tools cause publishers to leave money on the table by screening out good ads along with the bad ads, and by keeping ops teams mired in the present and past rather than looking to the future.

This is no time to backtrack and solve yesterday’s ad quality problems when every day brings surprising new revenue and workflow challenges. Sharper ad quality tools allow publishers to block keywords, phrases and industry verticals automatically. They can then drill down, set detailed criteria, and really align ad content with page content. With all the upheaval the digital industry has experienced, programmatic channels are especially important for publishers’ revenue strategies. Those channels are where publishers can discover quality advertisers that can become trusted partners over time. 

Seeking solutions

Publishers need all the revenue they can get at this moment, and the election season puts a lot of revenue on the table. But to maximize this moment, publishers need precision in rooting out deceptive ads. They must go beyond automation and toward customization. There is a reputational and revenue risk in hosting deceptive ads, but our media reality demands a scalpel rather than a mallet to separate misleading from legit political ads.

One final reminder: This election season will be highly digital. The pandemic is keeping users at home, even more wired in than usual. Campaign events that would normally be held in person mostly moving online. Publishers need this engagement to drive revenue and attract quality advertisers. And engagement needs audience trust: trustworthy page content and ad content together.

Now is the time to develop a customized approach to ad quality. It must be tailored to the publisher’s content and audience, with a steady eye on user experience. This is best achieved with the assistance of ad quality partners who can be just as responsive and offer customizable solutions. The election’s exact plotline will be impossible to predict, and the stakes for engagement and monetization are high.

Publishers need to devote their resources to producing content audiences can rely on and to developing a framework for maintaining ad quality as early as possible. Of course, publishers don’t need to handle the heavy lifting on their own. A good ad quality partner will have the technology to automate monitoring and blocking deceptive ads. Sophisticated, nuanced, proactive service helps ensure that publishers can block the deceptive ads that undermine their work, and let in the quality ads and advertisers that help publishers keep moving toward the future.

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