ANALYSIS-Advertisers seek more control after unintended Breitbart spots


(Adds Google statement on policies in paragraph 9)
    By Jessica ToonkelMarch 21 (Reuters) - Some advertisers are working overtime
to scrub their spots from websites including Breitbart News, an
unintended consequence of the automated ad buying systems that
are meant to lower costs and allow for more targeted
    Those trying to keep their ads off certain websites are
finding they must take steps to verify the spots they bid for
are where ads actually appear and that there are no third
parties involved that can result in ads winding up in unintended
    Breitbart News, once run by U.S. President Donald Trump's
chief strategist Steve Bannon and popular with the alt-right, a
loose grouping characterized by a rejection of mainstream
politics that includes neo-Nazis and anti-Semites, has become a
particular concern for some advertisers and the automated
exchanges they work with.
    While the exact number of advertisers that have blacklisted
Breitbart is unknown, Sleeping Giants, an anonymous group
campaigning on Twitter against companies advertising on the
website, puts the number higher than 1,500.
    However, ads from album creation site Mixbook and online
invitation company Paperless Post could still be seen on
Breitbart's website as recently as last week, according to a
review by Reuters, even after they each blocked the site last
    Control over online ad placement has become a hot button for
advertisers, with social networks and news aggregators coming
under fire during and after the U.S. presidential election for
spreading so-called fake news reports. Advertisers have also
sought to avoid having their brands appear beside content that
they categorize as hate speech.
    "This is about reputational risk," said Andrew Laffoon,
chief executive of Palo, Alto-based Mixbook. "Our brand stands
for families and connections and needs to be trusted."
     The issue extends beyond the United States, with Alphabet
Inc's <GOOGL.O> Google, the largest online advertiser globally,
coming under fire in Europe from politicians and brands angered
by their ads appearing alongside videos on its YouTube platform
carrying homophobic and anti-Semitic messages.
    Google launched a review of the issue on Friday, apologized
on Monday and said in a blog post on Tuesday it had revamped its
policies to give advertisers more control. [nL5N1GY1MS]
    A spokesman for Breitbart did not return repeated requests
for comment.

    The struggle by certain companies to keep their ads from
appearing on Breitbart demonstrates a potential pitfall to
digital ad buying. Programmatic ad buying keeps costs low by
allowing advertisers to automatically buy and place digital
spots through third-party exchanges, but brands may give up
control over where the ads run.
    For example, both Mixbook and New York-based marketing
technology company Magnetic, on behalf of a client, said they
had discovered ads showing up on Breitbart, which they had
blacklisted, through web addresses owned by Disqus, the company
that powers Breitbart's comment section.
    San Francisco-based Disqus had been selling ads on
Breitbart's site in exchange for Breitbart using its software
for its comment section, as it does for many sites, said Disqus
chief executive Daniel Ha. It stopped doing so entirely after
advertisers complained.
    When advertisers buy programmatic ads on exchanges, they or
their agencies create campaigns targeting certain audiences.
They send that information to buyers of ad inventory, known as
demand-side platforms, which automatically bid for spots on
hundreds of exchanges.
    The exchanges then place those ads on websites.
    Advertisers and the companies they work with often place
brand safety parameters around their bids and may exclude sites
associated with hate speech.
    However, ad exchanges sometimes hide the URLs of the
publishers where the ads appear. Some do not want it known they
are selling ads on exchanges at a cheaper rate, ad tech experts
told Reuters.
    Some exchanges like AppNexus have removed Breitbart from
their inventory. [nL1N1DO013] Ads appearing on the Breitbart
website viewed by Reuters were identified as directed by Google,
which has its own exchange called AdX.
    A Google spokeswoman declined to comment on issues
specifically relating to Breitbart, but said the company does
have policies governing where ads may be placed in order to
protect users from "harmful, misleading or inappropriate
    Executives at Swiss ad fraud detection company, Zulu5 AG,
and New York-based DoubleVerify, a New York-based firm which
helps advertisers confirm programmatic ads they bid on are the
ones that are delivered, said they have seen no evidence that
Breitbart is hiding its URL to gain ad revenue.

    GroupM, the media buying arm of London-based ad agency WPP
PLC <WPP.L>, is taking extra measures to make sure its clients'
ads only appear in videos on the sites it approves, said Joe
Barone, managing partner, digital ad operations for GroupM.
    For example, GroupM can tell a news outlet, like CNBC, that
it only wants its ads showing up for users who are on the CNBC
site, instead of those viewing CNBC videos on third-party sites,
Barone said. Doing so avoids situations where non-approved sites
use third-party video that contains its client's ads.
    Magnetic recently hired DoubleVerify to confirm the ads it
bids on are the ads that show up after a client found its ads on
Breitbart after blacklisting the site, said James Green, CEO of
Magnetic, declining to name the client.
     And Emily Sterken, a spokeswoman for Nordstrom Inc <JWN.N>,
said the retailer is investigating how to prevent its brand from
showing up on Breitbart but said it was very rare for an ad to
show up on a blocked site.
    Los Angeles-based agency Steelhouse, whose clients include
Paperless Post and Mixbook, initially blocked any ad buys on
Breitbart when its clients started complaining, but recently
changed course to leave it up to clients, said CEO Mark Douglas.
    "We have a number of clients who don't want to appear on
Breitbart, but for those who do, we will allow for that," he

Automated ad buying on the internet
 (Reporting By Jessica Toonkel; Editing by Anna Driver and
Meredith Mazzilli)
 ((; 646-223-7882;))


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