Advertising responsibly on news websites while defending against misinformation


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Veena McCoole, NewsGuard's Director of Partnerships, discusses advertisers' brand safety approaches and the ramifications of avoiding news content online

At NewsGuard, we’ve learned a lot from working in the rapidly changing news landscape. Shareability on social media is a major factor in the virality of misinformation, and the increasing partisan polarisation of news websites across the political spectrum can also have harmful consequences for democracy.

Specifically, the amount of high-stakes health misinformation that has caused tangible harm shows that we must continue working to combat fake news online and restore trust in the media.

Advertisers have a key role to play in this vital effort.

Misinformation can harm companies both directly and indirectly: Directly, if the misinformation spreading involves negative or misleading information on the company’s products or services itself. And indirectly if the company becomes associated with sources of misinformation online, such as through programmatic advertising on health hoax websites. A recent NewsGuard analysis, for example, found evidence of over 4,000 top advertisers inadvertently funding COVID-19 misinformation websites.

The threats of being associated with misinformation through advertising are huge. No matter how effective or compelling an advertising, sales or communications campaign has been, the presence of a brand’s advertisement on a website that perpetuates misleading narratives can be extremely damaging from a brand safety perspective and undo the thoughtful work of agencies and advisors. Brands - and all stakeholders working with them - should treat brand safety as a far-reaching issue spanning all touchpoints with the consumer that can lead to reputational damage in an instant.

To mitigate these risks, advertisers often implement either extremely narrow inclusion lists or extensive keyword blocking. Some even stop advertising on news websites entirely. The ramifications of this approach are concerning: it harms quality news - especially local news and minority news sites - and hurts their bottom line, while also causing advertisers to miss out on highly engaged news audiences.

As such, companies need to evaluate where they are bidding for ad inventory on various websites, and equally ensure that tactics such as keyword blocking aren’t preventing them from accessing inventory on websites that publish quality journalism. “Pre-bunking” solutions like NewsGuard’s inclusion and exclusion lists help companies optimise their ad spend, support quality journalism and adhere to the most exhaustive, human-researched standards of brand safety protection against misinformation, which traditional verification companies are unable to help with.

Here's how it works:

  • Our team of trained journalists has rated and reviewed thousands of news and information websites using apolitical criteria of journalistic practice, producing trust scores that fill a blind spot that current verification technologies have when it comes to separating accurate news from misinformation. Those traditional brand safety companies use AI, which is good at blocking pornography or some hate speech, but – as our study showing more than 4,000 brands supporting COVID hoax sites demonstrate — is helpless in spotting misinformation
  • We've used these trust scores to create pre-bid exclusion lists that enable advertisers to ensure their ads are excluded from known misinformation sites, including sites publishing COVID-19 misinformation and partisan political misinformation
  • We've also created pre-bid inclusion lists that enable advertisers to expand their current inclusion lists to serve ads on hundreds of quality news sites, including local news sites and sites serving minority communities

By working with NewsGuard, advertising agencies can:

  • Benefit from NewsGuard’s Responsible Advertising on News Segments (RANS), which are inclusion and exclusion lists that help advertisers redirect ad spend away from purveyors of misinformation and towards sources of quality journalism
  • Add more context to their reporting of media coverage quality by integrating NewsGuard’s ratings
  • Be alerted to “red-rated” sites that generally publish unreliable information in order to more quickly identify risks of inaccurate reporting and rectify errors in a more timely manner

Lower CPMs, higher clickthroughs

NewsGuard tested these “RANS” segments by running a pilot campaign with IPG and one of its major advertising clients. which saw dramatic results: The client saw a 9% decrease in CPM and a 143% increase in click-through rates, simply by expanding ad buys to include more trusted news sources, with high ratings by NewsGuard. In other words, advertising on credible news sources isn’t just a responsible way for brands to support journalism and democracy - it also helps the bottom line.

We’re currently piloting our “Responsible Advertising for News Initiative” and partnering with agencies, advertisers and advertising technology companies to help protect leading brands from having their ads unintentionally fund misinformation websites, while simultaneously enabling them to expand the reach of their campaigns and restore advertising to quality news sites.

As part of this, we'd like to offer IAB UK members and their clients a free inclusion/exclusion list analysis, in which we will use our publisher credibility database to analyze your exclusion and/or inclusion lists to provide an overall news credibility check for your lists and identify the areas where we can help make your lists more effective. Please contact [email protected] for more information.

By Veena McCoole, Director of Partnerships


NewsGuard products include NewsGuard, HealthGuard, and BrandGuard, which helps marketers concerned about their brand safety, and the Misinformation Fingerprints catalog of top hoaxes.

Posted on: Wednesday 8 September 2021