SNCR Takes On Fake News

This article describes fake news’ impact on brand advertising and outlines SNCR’s in-progress research to investigate the problem. It was originally published in the Society for New Communications Research Blog, and is reprinted here with permission.

By Jeff Pundyk—Sending shudders throughout the media and advertising world, Proctor & Gamble cut $140 million dollars in digital ad spending last quarter. The move reflects the company’s concerns over “brand safety,” the fear that its advertising is placed adjacent to unsavory, untrustworthy, or untrue content.

Despite the cuts, P&G beat both forecasts and their rivals in growth last quarter—and is aiming toward $2 billion in marketing cuts over the next five years. Behind the cuts is an industry-wide concern that ad inventory is finding its way to biased, unreliable, and sensational content, creating both tremendous brand risk and marketing waste.

“Fake news” is not just a political problem

As the internet has become flooded with unreliable content, that content sits alongside mainstream sites in automated systems that marketers, agencies, and digital publishers use to target advertising to segmented audiences. The rise of “programmatic” advertising—the automated purchasing of digital ads—has, in many ways, financed the rise of fake news sites and now threatens to undermine the advertising ecosystem.

The Conference Board’s SNCR Fellow Community is beginning a research project to explore businesses’ contribution to the problem—particularly how ad-supported media models can enable fake news—and what the marketing and communications communities can do about it.

It is a knotty issue with trust sitting at its center. Advertising is about building trust with customers; it also can serve a greater good, to ensure that we have an informed and engaged public by supporting trustworthy content providers. When we fail, the repercussions can be dramatic, both for the brand and for the larger community.

A new report by the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri shows that the majority of audiences believe what they read, see, or hear from mainstream news organizations. The report, part of the Trusting News project, found that two-thirds of those sampled were “likely” or “very likely” to believe mainstream organizations. The research team worked with 28 newsrooms to collect data from different U.S. media audiences.

And while the topline data is encouraging, there is much to parse as news organizations, readers, and the marketers who advertise on news sites grapple with the issues of trust, credibility and truth in the era of “fake news.”

The survey showed that liberal respondents were more trusting than conservative respondents and white respondents were more likely to believe information coming from news media than nonwhite audiences. The difference between white and nonwhite respondents was especially big on the question of trust in news media.

When asked to define what makes a news story credible, the majority of responses pointed to three characteristics: telling both sides of the story, using multiple sources, and fact checking—all standard practice at most mainstream publications.

Yet, when asked to rank media, audiences showed a real distrust for some very popular mainstream outlets and channels (see chart).

Source: Reynolds Journalism Institute, University of Missouri, 2017

Source: Reynolds Journalism Institute, University of Missouri, 2017

Our research will explore the extent of marketing and communications executives’ awareness of their connection to fake news, and will reflect with the community on solutions. We will shortly be fielding a survey and will share preliminary insights here. We welcome your feedback and participation. Please contact SNCR associate director Alex Parkinson ( ∞


About Author

Jeff Pundyk

Jeff Pundyk writes for the SNRC Blog. He is former Senior Vice President, Global Integrated Content Solutions, at The Economist.