Brands worried about the prospect of their ads appearing on fake news sites may need to refine their programmatic strategies and allow for greater human oversight of campaigns, a paper in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR) has argued.

“The predicament for brands is that their advertisements can and will end up on pages containing controversial content,” the study asserted.

“Because most brands prefer to occupy relatively noncontroversial and positive positions, the more controversial the fake-news website is, the less favorably the brand’s advertising on that site will be received.”

Authors Adam J. Mills (Loyola University New Orleans), Christine Pitt (Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden) and Sarah Lord Ferguson (Simon Fraser University, Canada) highlighted programmatic advertising as one issue to be addressed.

This automated process, they argued, is effective and efficient, but can lead marketers to “chase the traffic”, a quantitative strategy that often fails to take quality into account – and incentivises fake news providers to create evermore content.

Additionally, the study – entitled The relationship between fake news and advertising: brand management in the era of programmatic advertising and prolific falsehood – stated that fake news purveyors frequently use properties like Twitter and Facebook to attract eyeballs, either organically or using ads.

Social media platforms, in turn, stand to benefit from this process, both because of the ad revenue, and as fake news is typically “interesting and eye-catching”, and can thus keep users engaged for longer periods of time.

Another problem, according to the study, is that “advertisers, to a large extent, have relinquished certain elements of brand management with respect to online advertising channels”, with intermediates and affiliate networks playing a central role.

One resultant recommendation: “There may be room, in fact, for a new category of ‘intelligent’ intermediary to enter into the digital advertising space.

“In the online advertising business, there appears to be an unmet need for a higher service option for advertisers to have a tighter control over when, where, how, and to whom their advertisements are displayed.”

More “bespoke digital-campaign management”, such as creating white lists of approved sites for advertising, could also be useful in countering the brand risk from fake news.

Such models require greater “manual placement and human endeavor”, the study said, “but the returns would be worthwhile to brands concerned about reputational capital.”

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff