I just saw a SeaWorld ad next to an article advocating for animal rights and the boycotting of animal enclosures. Who’s asleep at the wheel here?  

Brands are finding their ads popping up next to inappropriate, and oftentimes, appalling content (think offensive videos and fake news sites.) To combat “guilt” by association, companies are now limiting their display ads to pre-approved websites.

This relatively recent change demonstrates how skeptical we now have to be when working with automated outlets and online ad platforms. The power of automation mixed with million-dollar budgets is proving a dangerous combination.

In the last five years, companies and agencies avoided purchasing ad spots on individual sites, in favor of the faster, cheaper method of targeting large groups of people based on their browser history. This is called programmatic advertising.

(Have you ever abandoned, say, a decorative rug in an online shopping cart, just to find it following you around the internet? That’s programmatic hard at work.)

Many advertisers assumed there’d be more value in showing up on thousands of unfamiliar sites than simply hundreds of pre-approved. But a few companies have shown otherwise.

Take JPMorgan. They cut their programmatic advertising by more than 95 percent, limiting it to only approved sites, and managed to collect similar results to their heftier programmatic efforts. And to the surprise of many, they saw very little change in visibility and cost per impression.

Google’s display network includes more than two million websites, YouTube has more than three million ad-endorsed channels, and traditional media companies only account for a small percentage of available ad impressions each day. Only digital advertising relies on the exponential reach of the internet, while targeting people at niche levels for a low cost.

While pre-approving sites may seem massively time consuming, does it compare to the alternative: showing up on sites like Tuck Frump or Hillary 4 Prison?

A lot of dubious publishing sites survive by leveraging programmatic, so brands end up on them without their knowledge – despite the existence of blacklists and other tools. The fight is real, and you can take the right precautions to avoid consumer backlash.

If more companies follow suit and see similar results as JPMorgan, you’ll easily find that not all automation is created equally. Don’t risk affiliating yourself with reckless and irrelevant content. The-better-safe-than-sorry route is becoming the new course of action for programmatic advertising and brands.

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