P&G, Ford and Other Top Brands Keep Ads Flowing to RT's Site

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A Gillette ad on RT's website.
A Gillette ad on RT's website. Credit: via RT.com

While Marc Pritchard is at the annual advertising festival known as the ANAs and continues to question the digital ad ecosystem, Procter & Gamble ads are still at risk of running on questionable websites.

In recent weeks, Gillette ads have run on RT.com, a site that was accused of misleading coverage following last weekend's Las Vegas shooting and seeking influence during the 2016 presidential election. RT, formerly Russia Today, is funded by the Kremlin, which played a destabilizing part in the election, according to the U.S. intelligence agencies and companies that have looked into the matter.

RT is the latest digital property, following sites like Breitbart and InfoWars, to come under scrutiny for delivering headlines skewed to influence politics. In the case of RT, its foreign benefactor has become an issue. Twitter said last week that the site paid to promote anti-Hillary Clinton articles during the election.

Over the past two weeks, major marketers have appeared on RT's website, promoting brands like P&G's Gillette, Ford, Honda, Walmart, Warby Parker, Honeywell. They and others had ads served through automated ad networks Taboola, AdRoll and Google's AdSense.

On Thursday, in a keynote at the ANA event in Orlando, Pritchard continued to speak out against the digital ad ecosystem. (In addition to sketchy news sites and ad fraud, he took aim at at contextual relevance. "If you're watching cat videos, do you really want to see a toothpaste ad?" he asked.)

P&G has said it has a zero-tolerance policy for appearing on content it deems objectionable. The company has been cutting its digital marketing budget and streamlining the number of sites it approves for its ads.

P&G declined to comment for this story, saying it does not discuss individual sites. Ford did not respond to a request for comment. A number of other advertisers on RT.com did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Gillette ads came through Taboola, a content service for publishers. The publishing technology company has a video ad player that pops up on desktop screens.

RT stories often tilt in a pro-Kremlin direction, which is why it has been accused of being a propaganda outlet. Its typical defense is that its information is no more biased than any U.S.-based media. And both RT and Fox News have suggested that Democrats were behind the murder of former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

In one instance, Gillette ads played against stories with anti-NATO sentiment, defending Russian military exercises against the U.S.-led alliance.

A Ford ad appeared on an article about RT's use of Twitter during the election. In it, RT's editor-in-chief defended against the insinuation that it did anything improper by promoting its own headlines to potential readers. "Somehow it did not cross our mind that in a developed democracy regular media advertising can be considered suspicious or detrimental activity," said the editor, Margarita Simonyan.

Taboola and Google declined to comment for this article. The ad networks that serve RT all offer blacklist options, meaning brands can block them in automated ad buys.

Many industry watchers think whitelists, not blacklists, are the only way for a brand to know for certain where their ads appear. Brands pick the sites with a whitelist and appear nowhere else.

"You can create a list of sites you don't want to run on, but it is the unknown sites that will be their downfall and put their brand at risk," says Marc Goldberg, CEO of Trust Metrics, a publishing technology firm that addresses brand safety concerns. "For every Breitbart they know, there are hundreds of other sites they don't know about."

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