Our Democracy Needs Brand Suitability Standards. Now.

As Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visibly hushed her Democratic counterparts after the articles of impeachment were passed on December 18, 2019, I had one thought—the facts. A fact is defined as something that is known or proved to be true, but in today’s political climate, the line between fact and opinion has blurred.

Anyone credible or otherwise can speak their truth and generate advertising dollars. These dollars create a vicious cycle where user-generated content drives endless page views and revenue follows.

To tackle brand safety and suitability in these tumultuous times, the industry must differentiate between user-generated content and professional journalism. Writers and publishers that follow the canons of journalism (truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, fairness and public accountability) should be heralded and rewarded. Instead, social platforms delivering soft and often misleading content take dollars from premium news publications.

Setting standards and creating transparency

It’s time to put a stamp of approval on clean and pure journalism. The advertising industry needs to create standardized guidelines that distinguish professionally produced content and then, similar to the transparency ads.txt and sellers.json provides, clearly identify this content to buyers before purchase. Some brands won’t care because efficiency is queen and brand awareness is more important than brand affinity, but there are hundreds of influential marketers that will take this information, dissect it and rethink strategies that are rooted in ignorant keyword blacklists and a sweeping block of news content.

Additionally, it’s time for verification vendors to step into a consultative role with brands. Low, medium and high levels of risk don’t tell a standardized or complete story and, in more cases than not, negatively impact the freedom of the press. We need enhanced technology that takes more than the words on a page or headline into consideration. We need categorization principles that protect truth-tellers, eliminate bias and ensure advertisers can effectively serve their customers.

Writers and publishers that follow the canons of journalism should be heralded and rewarded.

This isn’t enough, though. It’s time to flip the script and create brand safety standards on advertisements themselves. As one of the most important political years of our lifetime approaches, some of the world’s most reputable publications are refusing to display political advertising despite the major loss of revenue.

In a world where fact and fiction, smear and support are so grossly intertwined, publishers have no choice but to say a resounding no to political advertising. To create a fully positive user experience, I challenge verification vendors to start holding advertisers to the same (currently flawed) standards that content providers are held to.

We in the advertising world have an opportunity to clean up our industry while protecting the press. For me, it’s a challenge accepted—how about you?