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How to prevent your ads from appearing on hate sites
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How to prevent your ads from appearing on hate sites

Business Strategy

Over the past few years we have seen tremendous growth of the number of extremist groups in the world. According to Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization which studies and lists the extremist groups in the United States, there are more than 1,600 groups active in 2017, and this number is on the rise. These groups, which have no compunction about promoting their ideologies through their websites and on social media, use these platforms to spread their messages while simultaneously generating revenue through banner ads on their sites.


This phenomenon has caused headaches for many advertisers who have involuntarily displayed ads on these sites. Here is an explanation of this phenomenon as well as strategies for keeping your ads off these sites.

How could my ad end up on these sites?

Everyone knows that over the past few years, programmatic ad buying has allowed agencies and advertisers to automate a large part of their digital media buys. These platforms allow advertisers to reach a large volume of users targeted either by their online behaviour (audiences) or as a function of the sites they visit (contextual). Unlike targeting by site, which gives you excellent control over where your ad will display, targeting by audience allows you to target a large volume of users with similar characteristics without taking into consideration which site the user is on.

Although brand safety tools exist to protect advertisers from appearing on hate sites, several sites have managed to slip through the exclusions, which is how we’ve had situations like advertisers unknowingly advertising on Breitbart. Essentially, the site wasn’t caught by hate site exclusions, and as a result certain advertisers had their audience-targeted ads appear in this undesirable environment. Keep in mind that if you see an advertiser’s ad on a site like this, it’s because they’re targeting you, and your visit to the site generated an ad impression request stemming from a campaign with bad parameters. That’s why advertisers need to double down on their efforts to eliminate their ad presence on these sites, and minimize the consequences that come with it.  

What are the consequences?

While visitors to these sites may often share the ideology of the group in question, many organizations are fighting this phenomenon and won’t hesitate to call out companies who are still advertising on these sites. This denunciation often motivates advertisers to redouble their efforts to tighten up the parameters of their campaigns, but it also generates a flood of bad press that could have a negative impact on your brand image.  

What’s worse, when you advertise on hate sites, you inadvertently generate income for these groups. In fact, hate groups often won’t hesitate to cover their sites with banner ads and adopt a click bait-style acquisition strategy to maximize the number of pages viewed on their site, and at the same time, their advertising revenue. That’s one big reason why agencies and advertisers should use all means at their disposal to avoid displaying ads on these types of sites.


How can this phenomenon be prevented?

Aside from using basic brand safety tools, it’s important to monitor the sites where your campaigns are appearing. However, this task can prove both time-consuming and complicated, because while certain sites like Breitbart are easy to identify and exclude from your targeting, a wide variety of other small hate sites can together generate a similar volume of impressions, all while slipping through the protections of your brand safety tools. Because site research requires a large amount of time and effort, we reached out to an organization dedicated to the cause in order to accelerate the search process and build up our list of site exclusions.

The organization we contacted was Southern Poverty Law Center. We explained to them that we wanted to develop an exclusion list of hate sites so we could avoid advertising on these sites, and contributing to the bottom line of these groups. A few days later, the organization sent us a list containing more than 400 sites, ranging from local groups to national groups with international reach. This cooperation allowed us to considerably increase our global exclusion list, helping us minimize our presence on undesirable sites.

We would also recommend creating whitelists, to give you better control over the environments your ads are shown in when you’re running campaigns targeted by audience. Over time, by updating these lists at the same time as you update your exclusion lists, you’ll be able to generate a large volume of ad impressions while keeping tight control of where your ads will appear in the open exchange. Additionally, by creating private agreements with the large advertising networks (collectively known as the Private Marketplace, or PMP) you can get out of the open exchange without considerably impacting the volume of impressions available for your campaigns. In short, a combination of these tools and practices will give you more control over the environments where your ads are shown, and over your campaigns in general. This will allow you to deliver more ad impressions to the right people, in the right environments.


To conclude, learning how to take control of your advertising environment is absolutely essential. Unfortunately, deficits in the algorithms of brand safety tools make it so that these tools alone are no longer enough to guarantee that your campaigns will be kept completely away from hate content. It goes without saying that keeping control involves having digital media managers tighten up campaign parameters, and will require an improvement of the brand safety tools that purchase platforms offer. It will also be interesting to watch what digital giants like Google and Facebook do, since in the end, they have the last word about which sites are allowed to be part of their ad networks.