What's that saying about real estate?

Location, location, location. 

I can remember when we bought our house. We looked at one house that was just picture perfect…until you turned around to see the run-down auto body shop just down the street, the rundown houses and vacant abandoned lots, and the lineup of battered cars without doors or wheels parked up and down the street. No matter how much we rationalized the ideal nature of the house we were looking at, there was no denying that our perception of the house was dragged down by the neighboring homes and businesses.

So why is it that we don’t think “location, location, location” as marketers? Why is it that we have not wondered what happens when our ad is the prettiest ad on the block?

According to some consumers we recently surveyed, we need to start thinking about just that. In an age of fake news and click-bait sites, consumers are more aware than ever when the brands they love and respect show up in the least expected places. And then there are the sites that people just don’t like. Take, for example, conservative news outpost, Breitbart. In the wake of the US Presidential election, the often inflammatory outlet drew the spotlight for its sexist, homophobic, racist and generally derogatory stories and overarching pro-Trump leanings. This prompted advertisers like Kellogg, Nordstrom, Deutsche Telekom (parent company to T-Mobile), BMW, Lufthansa and Allstate to pull advertising from the site. 

But most interesting about this move wasn’t the sheer number of advertisers who cut ties with the site, but rather the number of advertisers who had no idea their ads were appearing on the site until screenshots were being posted to Twitter by angry consumers, enraged that their trusted brands were advertising on a site they loathed. BMW went so far as to publicly state that they were blacklisting Breitbart from their advertising networks. A spokesperson for the brand told the Los Angeles Times that “only individuals who specifically expressed an interest in the brand and then visited the Breitbart site would have received an ad from BMW.” 

Making matters worse were stories, like those that appeared in The New York Times, where brands indicated that they had blacklisted Breitbart, yet ads were still being served. According to the paper, “Nordstrom, which said it moved to prevent its ads from running on Breitbart several months ago, was on the site as recently as two weeks ago, puzzling employees and others online, who were quick to take screenshots and question the company on Twitter.” 

The article goes on to pinpoint the real issue: “The problem underscores the challenges companies continue to face with the largely automated nature of online advertising, which tends to show messages to people based on who they are, rather than what site they visit. While errant appearances on unwanted sites may be rare—Nordstrom runs millions of ads daily, it said, and fewer than 200 show up on Breitbart—the risks of being viewed there have spiked, with consumer watchdogs and news outlets using screenshots and social media to call out brands for appearing near questionable content like hate speech or terrorist propaganda. Brands are frequently left scrambling to figure out how they got there.” 

According to our study, “How Brands Annoy Fans, 75 percent of consumers are worried about the growing number of fake or biased news sites out there today, and 88 percent say that a negative experience may make them think differently about a brand or make them decide to not do business with that brand. Once trust is lost, brands can rest assured that business is lost as well, as 37 percent of consumers say that advertising that appears near objectionable content changes the way they think of the brand, and 11 percent say that negative placements will bring on a boycott of the brand altogether. 

As a result, 60 percent say that this fake-news epidemic is actually causing them to consume more content from trusted sources and channels. Thirty-nine (39) percent of consumers say they support brands that advertise on their favorite media environments, and 64 percent admit that they respond better to ads delivered through trusted news sites—and they agree that social media is not a trusted source of content and information. In fact, they rank social media as the least trusted source of information among the top five media channels.

Where does that leave us? As brands, on one hand, we have technologies and platforms that have enabled us to optimize the targeting and delivery of digital advertising to reach the exact persona of our most valuable prospect and customer and maximize every dollar spent online. On the other hand, we have a customer base that is more leery than ever about perception and how they are impacted by the company we keep. 

Just like buying a house, we need to think about location and perception. Most importantly, we can no longer assume that blocking and blacklisting are enough. We need to remember that the web can be a dark and murky pool, and it’s up to us to wear goggles and keep our eyes open. We need to be better partners with our agencies—setting clear expectations, asking tougher questions and empowering them to ask the hard questions and make the tough calls that keep us in the light we want to have shining on our brands.

Advertising has never been a Ron Popeil “set it and forget it” tool. We can’t just assume it is working in the way we dream for it to work, but at the same time, we can’t let complexity be the killer of brand perception. An agency head interviewed by The New York Times said it best: “For a major company, there are probably, at any given time, 100 different campaigns being run by a dozen different departments across a thousand websites and a dozen agencies. To think that every single one of those players is religiously and slavishly using the approved site list or is blacklisting Breitbart is unlikely.” 

But why aren’t they? Why can’t we make that demand? In reality, we can, but we haven’t been. Perhaps the time has finally come. 

Until next month! 


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