Once upon a time, I coveted a certain wall clock from Uncommon Goods. It had these lovely bendy arms that would artfully tell the time… and were too long to fit on basically any wall in my NYC studio apartment. So though I swooned over its product page, and even put it in my shopping basket just to feel that rush of adrenaline, I didn’t actually buy it.
That friggin’ clock followed me for months in banner ads and on Facebook and more. It was on every device I owned, every site I visited, at home and at work.
You’ve almost certainly been haunted, too, by a product or a cause. Over the past few years, the ever-more-precise targeting of people wherever they go on the Internet has been an amazing development for nonprofits who want to reach their current supporters and potential new audiences.
Programmatic display ad technology, as it’s called, lets us target the right people for a nonprofit’s goals: the specific advocates who recently abandoned a donation form; the visitors who keep coming back to the website but haven’t converted yet; and the right lookalike group of likely donors. We can target audiences rather than than blindly buying ad space on specific websites. With some very limited exceptions, this is how M+R approaches donor acquisition and direct response fundraising for the organizations we work with.
But following a person across the internet means you go where they go — and to be completely honest, your supporters are going to go to some pretty weird places. With the increased prevalence of fake news sites and other hateful, racist, and inflammatory content, there are more and more places you just don’t want your ads to appear — and websites you don’t want to get a dollar of your ad budget.
Brand safety — keeping yours ads away from offensive sites — is something we’ve kept an eye on for years. With the growing prominence and impact of Breitbart, Infowars, and their ilk, it’s never been more important. The good news is, it’s possible to show ads to the right people, avoid sites with fake news and hateful content, and maintain a great ROI.
Here’s a simple, 4-step action plan you can take to ensure your advocacy ads aren’t showing up in the wrong places.
Step 1: Start by reviewing your brand safety settings for each display ad partner you use. Make sure that you’ve got strong brand safety settings in place.
If you’re running display ads on the Google Display Network using AdWords, you’ll want to check out this info. If you’re using DSPs (Demand Side Platforms) like DoubleClick Bid Manager, Rocket Fuel, Quantcast, or MediaMath, they should also have brand safety settings and/or blacklists (sites where they block ads from serving). Make sure that they’re turned on!
Step 2: On a biweekly or monthly basis, review reports of the sites where your ads have served — more often if it’s a new vendor!
If you use the Google Display Network, you can use these instructions to check your site placements — i.e., where your ads served. Your other display ad partners should be able to tell you where their ads are serving. Tools like DoubleClick Campaign Manager Verification reporting can help. If your vendors aren’t sharing this data… ask a little harder.
Step 3: Based on your research in step 2, create and maintain a blacklist of sites or placements where your ads should not show. Make sure your partners have this list, and make sure they’re using it!
Again — if you’re a GDN user, you should be more or less covered. Check out this support article to learn more.
Step 4: Be responsive to comments about where your ads show up. Even with ongoing blacklist updates, some bad placements may sneak through — if a site uses iframes from other domains, for example.
It’s okay if you don’t know what that technical stuff means! What matters is listening to your supporters (especially on social media) when they see something wrong, and following through. Reach out to your display ad partner, have them help you figure out how to block those ads, and explain to your supporters that you’re taking steps to distance yourself from the site.
UPDATE: What about Facebook? The process above works for banner ads, but as with most of life Facebook plays by its own rules. It allows you to keep your ads off of broad categories of sites, as well as identify a blacklist of specific sites to avoid. Once you’ve cleaned up your AdWords, it’s pretty simple to do the same on Facebook.
M+R takes all of these steps — and more — to ensure brand safety for our clients, and you can do it, too. Direct response programmatic advertising (it sounds so fancy!) ultimately means that we’ll bid to show ads to the best audiences. And as we do so, we want to make sure we’re doing it on, well, not the worst sites.
[Mike’s Activist Addendum]:
If you don’t run an ads program but want to help get brands you love moved off of crummy websites, check out this tool — great for multitasking world-changing while you suffer through the next round of confirmation hearings running in the background.
— M+R (@MRCampaigns) January 20, 2017