When Tracking Consumers Backfires
With the current trend of big data, tracking methods are becoming the standard way of targeting consumers with online ads. While this methodology may work for reaching the target audience, ad-buying technology does raise a number of ethical and practical questions. The recent controversy over Kellogg’s online ads emphasizes the risk of automated ads that follow consumer’s online behavior.
The controversy began when executives at electronics retailer Newegg Inc. became aware that their ads appeared on Breitbart, which is a conservative news site that expresses controversial views that many critics consider sexist, racist, and anti-semitic. In addition to its controversial viewpoints, throughout the election cycle Breitbart published stories with false or distorted headlines that consistently misled readers.
Some of Breitbart’s news-distortion tactics were so bad that it was added to a list of “false, misleading, clickbait-y, and/or satirical ‘news’ sources,” compiled by Melissa Zimdars, a communications professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts. Newegg wasn’t aware of its ad presence on the contentious news site. Many reputable brands (such as Kellogg, Allstate, Braun, etc) ran into the same issue.
After discovering that these ads were the product of an automated ad purchase, many companies added Breitbart to the list of sites to avoid ad placement. In addition to conflicts of political ideas, popular brands also face the issue of their ads being placed on sites with pirated media, fake/misleading news, fraudulent ad traffic, or other illegal content. Tracking a consumer’s every move online is becoming increasingly inefficient and controversies like Breitbart may end up harming a brand’s image.