Pharma running online ads on vaccine misinformation sites

SUMMARY: More than 42,000 programmatic ads from 4,315 brands are running on websites spouting misinformation about the vaccine and COVID over the past year. Included in the programmatic ad errors is Pfizer, who developed a leading COVID vaccine. When will pharma stop using programmatic online ads?

Programmatic has been a thorn in online advertisers. Brands don’t often have power over where their programmatic ads are appearing online, due to third-party vendors. NewsGuard found that 67% of the COVID misinformation sites had Google advertising tags and 30% had tags from The Trade Desk.

An analysis of programmatic advertising data finds a disconnect between those well-intentioned efforts and the programmatic advertising campaigns that those same companies and institutions finance. Throughout the pandemic, many of the world’s largest and most trusted brands have been financially supporting misinformation about COVID-19, placing thousands of programmatic advertisements on websites that have published falsehoods and conspiracy theories about the pandemic, undermining public health efforts.

NewsGuard. Restoring trust and accountability

Of the 405 sites flagged by NewsGuard’s team for publishing COVID-19 misinformation, the vast majority—over 80%—were repeat offenders, meaning they had previously been flagged for publishing health misinformation.

Google’s advertising platforms, DV360 and DoubleClick, are among the most widely used to place ads on misinformation websites: 67% of all of the COVID-19 misinformation websites NewsGuard identified with ad placements had Google advertising tags on them, and 30% had tags from The Trade Desk, a large demand-side advertising platform.

How much is enough?

The programmatic problem shows no signs of improving, and frankly, Pfizer should terminate their relationship with their online agency as this is totally unacceptable.

Again and again, I have seen robust fraud and online ads being placed on sites that pharma would normally block in their system. The problem is that agencies have become lazy, and programmatic offers them a chance to make a lot of money without much work than manually choosing sites that fit the audience.

It was estimated that the costs related to digital advertising fraud worldwide would grow exponentially within the four years between 2018 and 2022, from 19 billion to 44 billion U.S. dollars. In the United States, the costs incurred due to digital ad fraud were believed to reach 11 billion U.S dollars in 2018. With the growing digitization of processes, including those in advertising, comes a growing risk of fraud. Today when more and more ads are traded programmatically, fraud detection processes are not yet fully developed, and so the bulk of advertising ends up being served to bots instead of potential customers. 

 In early 2017, close to 40 percent of ad impressions served programmatically in the United States were fraudulent. Japan recorded the highest programmatic ad fraud rates at that time. Unsurprisingly, nearly a quarter of global marketers expressed high concerns about ad fraud, with a further 49 percent being apprehensive about the issue. Until effective tracking tools and stricter regulations on online ad publishing are put in place, ad fraud will remain a significant problem for advertisers and media buyers. 

If pharma is going to waste money like this perhaps they could send the money to those who need it.