Opinion

The time Mumbrella accidentally funded Breitbart

After being informed Mumbrella’s ads were appearing on Breitbart, Mumbrella’s Josie Tutty looks into how and why we had ended up on the alt-right site, and asks where we should draw the line.

Early yesterday morning, the Mumbrella News Twitter account received a message informing us that an ad for our upcoming Finance Marketing Summit was displaying on alt-right aligned, climate change denying, openly misogynistic US publication Breitbart.

A chat with our marketing team revealed that we were, indeed, funding the site – a whole 93c had been safely delivered to the hands of the people who’ve run headlines including: “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy”, “Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer?” and “There’s no hiring bias against women in tech, they just suck at interviews”.

To get a feel for the site’s content, let’s take a look at a few lines from the first title of the bunch, written by controversial provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos:

Women on the Pill don’t look right and don’t talk right. What could be worse? Well, they can’t jiggle correctly either.

Did you know that cellulite didn’t exist before the Pill?

Birth control makes you a slut.

All in all, not exactly brand safety 101.

A quick look at our AdWords account revealed that a single user had visited Breitbart, seen the ad, and clicked on it. Google charged us $1.37.

After taking its 22% share, the remainder of the cash was sent to Breitbart.

The tweet to Mumbrella was sent by an activist acting on behalf of Sleeping Giants, an online campaign “to make bigotry and sexism less profitable” by informing advertisers that their ads are appearing on sites such as Breitbart.

Sleeping Giants asks its followers to visit the offending site, take a screenshot of any ads that appear, and tweet it to the advertiser with “a polite note” asking them to remove their spend.

At the time of writing, 3,788 advertisers have pulled their spend from Breitbart. According to Sleeping Giants, 125 of those are Australian companies.

The Sydney Writers Festival was also called out by the same user for its Breitbart ads.

A major arts festival lining the pockets of an alt-right hate site would have been big news in any world outside of the programatically-challenged one we currently live in.

Because here’s the thing – we didn’t choose to have our ad appear on Breitbart. The reason why our ad appeared was down to the magical art of Google’s affinity audiences.

For some reason, Google decided that whoever was scrolling through Breitbart was probably also the kind of person who was interested in our Finance Marketing Summit.

Or perhaps Google knows something we don’t.

So why don’t we simply blacklist offending sites?

Well, we did, once we’d been made aware of it. If you want to do the same, Sleeping Giants have a handy how-to guide.

But here’s the problem: where do we draw the line?

When the news of Don Burke’s alleged history of abuse broke, we blocked the Burke’s Backyard site. But do we also block Louis CK’s site? What about Craig McLachlan?

And even if we did decide where we stood on the alt-right to Vice spectrum, new sites are popping up every day, all over the world. And Google is placing our ads on them.

During Mumbrella’s history of Google display campaigns, we’ve placed our ads on 75,463 different sites, resulting in more than 15 million impressions.

The Finance Marketing Summit campaign – the one which appeared on Breitbart – has been running for about one month and has already appeared on 565 different sites.

There are so many ads being created every day, that trawing through the entire list of sites would be enough work for a full-time member of staff. We’re not about to hire that person anytime soon – and neither, I would imagine, are the majority of other advertisers.

My chat with marketing revealed we already exclude any sites or apps that are deemed to be:

  • Sensational and shocking
  • Sexually suggestive
  • Gambling
  • In-game ads

Sure, we could start checking every box on the list, including ‘sensitive social issues’, ‘tragedy and conflict’, and ‘profanity and rough language’.

But if we ticked every possible box, our ads would have nowhere left to go. Even this very site doesn’t tick the profanity-free box. What a shit fit.

So where can we go from here?

Short of giving up on your online marketing strategy entirely, there are a few small things you can do.

First, if someone informs you that your ad is appearing somewhere you’d rather it wasn’t, take them seriously. Not only could you be putting your hard-earned money in unsavoury publisher’s hands, but you’re creating a serious brand safety risk.

Keep your blacklist up to date, and don’t neglect to take a look every now and again at where your money’s going.

Checking sporadically when you’ve got time is better than never checking.

It’s your money, after all.

But ultimately, the Breitbarts of the world will continue to pop into existence faster than we can blacklist them, and deciding which sites we feel are hate-filled enough to warrant being blacklisted is more work than we can afford.

I’m sure there’s many advertisers that feel the same.

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