Commentary

How Much Did Brands Support Election Misinformation?

Brands may have unwittingly supported websites that published unsubstantiated claims about election fraud before last week's Capitol riot, according to a report. Its findings again suggest that marketers need to be more mindful about their media buying to avoid negative associations with misinformation that has deadly consequences.
Procter & Gamble, Walmart, Disney and American Express were among the more than 1,600 brands that ran ads on websites that NewsGuard, the maker of a press watchdog technology, flagged for "publishing falsehoods and conspiracy theories about the election."

It tracked about 8,800 ads on dozens of sites from October 1 through this week.

Conservative media outlets OANN and TheGatewayPundit were among the publishers that NewsGuard labeled as "misinformation sites." The list also includes libertarian site ZeroHedge and lesser known sites such as AmericanThinker, NOQReport and CharlieKirk. SputnikNews, a propaganda site controlled by the Russian government, also peddled falsehoods.
It's hard to gauge how much money brands spent on sites that NewsGuard flagged for spreading election misinformation, and whether consumers will blame them for indirectly inciting violence at the Capitol.
The 8,800 unique ads that appeared on the sites make up a small sliver of the billions of ad placements that programmatic exchanges likely handled during NewsGuard's study period. However, more data is needed to measure the effect.
Matt Skibinski, the NewsGuard general manager who authored the report, told Publishing Insider that ad impression data would provide more insights about how many people likely saw the ads amid misleading information about the election.
The findings suggest that major brands may not be fully aware of where their advertising appears. The complexity of online auctions for ad placements increases the chance that ads pass through the hands of several digital middlemen before finally showing up on a website.

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