In their advertising plans, companies actively seek to avoid being associated with offensive content, such that many firms refuse to include advertisements on porn sites, in proximity to violent videos on YouTube, and so forth. But these are not the only forms of offensive content in the contemporary marketplace, which features a wide range of platforms that actively and purposefully spread misleading, false, and inflammatory information. As digital advertising spending continues to grow at rapid paces, the brands largely outsource their strategies to on third-party vendors, which in turn run automated algorithms, without much human oversight, to decide where and when to place marketing communications. Accordingly, advertisements for such familiar names as Home Depot, AARP, and Omnicom have appeared on debunked websites, such as Newsmax, Infowars, and The Gateway Pundit. All of these sites have been condemned for publishing and pushing hate speech, false election claims, and inflammatory conspiracy theories. Although the sites have the freedom to publish such lies, national brands likely do not want to stake their reputations on being linked to such falsehoods and the societal risks that follow from them. Accordingly, shareholders in certain companies, including Home Depot, have explicitly demanded that the corporate managers take steps to prevent such advertising placements. In their view, appearing on a page that spreads lies about an election and arguably incites further violence is as damaging to the brand as appearing near a video of the violence itself.
Source: Tiffany Hsu and Marc Tracy, “Investors Push Home Depot and Omnicon to Steer Ads from Misinformation,” The New York Times, January 18, 2021