New York Times: Brands Try to Blacklist Breitbart, but Ads Slip Through Anyway

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Since the presidential election, hundreds of companies have decided to block their advertisements from running on Breitbart News, the alt-right website closely tied to President Trump’s administration. But several of those brands, from the Nordstrom department store chain to small start-ups, have appeared on the site anyway, another example of how little control companies often have over where their ads are seen online.

Nordstrom, which said it moved to prevent its ads from running on Breitbart several months ago, was on the site as recently as two weeks ago, puzzling employees and others online, who were quick to take screenshots and question the company on Twitter. Other advertisers, including BMW of North America and Scribie, a transcription service, also appeared on Breitbart after blocking their ads from the site, a practice known as blacklisting.

The problem underscores the challenges companies continue to face with the largely automated nature of online advertising, which tends to show messages to people based on who they are, rather than what site they visit. While errant appearances on unwanted sites may be rare — Nordstrom runs millions of ads daily, it said, and fewer than 200 show up on Breitbart — the risks of being viewed there have spiked, with consumer watchdogs and news outlets using screenshots and social media to call out brands for appearing near questionable content like hate speech or terrorist propaganda. Brands are frequently left scrambling to figure out how they got there.

“If a brand doesn’t want to be associated with a particular publisher for whatever reason, it’s kind of crazy that they request for it to be blacklisted and still spend money on it,” said Andrew Casale, the chief executive of Index Exchange, an online advertising exchange. “This is all evidence of gaps in our supply chain, which are becoming visible to the mainstream.”

AT&T and Johnson & Johnson were among prominent advertisers that pulled their marketing from YouTube and Google ad exchanges on Wednesday after news reports showed their ads running next to offensive material. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Walmart were part of another wave of companies that pulled non-search ads from Google on Friday after The Wall Street Journal discovered the brands alongside YouTube videos with racist and anti-Semitic content.

The actions extended Google boycotts that advertisers in Britain, such as The Guardian and clients of Havas, a French advertising multinational, began earlier in the month based on similar reports.

Those motivated to choke off Breitbart’s ad revenue have become particularly attentive to which brands appear on the site. That effort has been led by a Twitter account called Sleeping Giants, which uses screenshots to publicise and shame brands with ads on the site. The anonymously led account, which has more than 75,000 followers, was created in November as Breitbart drew attention for its ties to Stephen K. Bannon, the site’s former chairman and now the chief White House strategist, and as critics accused the site of promoting racist and misogynistic views. (Continued…)

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