GeoEdge Trend Analysis: Ukraine-Russia War

As the international community focuses on the war in Ukraine, the digital world helps to shape narratives through online advertising trends. Today, digital advertising channels are a primary vector in information warfare. The current conflict exploits users’ sensitivity to the Ukraine-Russia war and highlights the challenge of discerning between credible news, disinformation, and propaganda. This update offers insight into the psychological warfare techniques that we at GeoEdge have seen used in the digital sphere.

Since late February, GeoEdge has identified an influx of salacious creatives designed to cause panic and elicit clicks– including advertisements that fall into a gray area.

As communication in the region remains limited, we have witnessed politically-charged campaigns flooding programmatic channels, directing users to various information sources such as Telegram channels and non-malicious pages, to scams and explicit sites. 

These campaigns have a common factor: They meet the criteria for what GeoEdge considers clickbait. GeoEdge defines clickbait as creative engineered to intentionally drive clicks through psychological means via sensationalist text or imagery. Within this context, ads falling into the grey zone induce fear, guilt, or other strong negative emotions to pressure users to take immediate action. 

GeoEdge empowers you to decide where the line should be drawn.

Pro-Ukrainian Campaigns Leading to Telegram Channels

In a growing trend, ads drive European online audiences to Ukrainian Telegram channels. In one instance, an ad campaign reads, “Mom, I’m in Ukraine. Please find me.” Alongside an image of a young soldier, the creative includes a phone number and invites mothers to “Look for yours.” The phone number on the creative leads callers to a group of pro-Ukrainian volunteers sharing information about the status of soldiers. The group identifies as “a humanitarian project, the purpose of which is to inform the relatives of the victims about their fate.”

The Telegram channel connects users to a chat with 850K+ subscribers that shares updates on “all relevant information about prisoners and victims of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine.” This campaign falls into the grey zone, as the creative induces fear to elicit clicks. Publishers’ audiences are then directed to a telegram channel that displays death, severe distress, and pain images. For a seamless user experience, especially during heightened user sensitivity, publishers should clarify which campaigns may be appropriate or inappropriate for their audience.

Ukrainian Financial Entities Turn to US Audiences for Fundraising

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Online audiences outside of Ukraine want to take positive action and help those impacted by the crisis. A popular way they have been doing so is by contributing to Ukrainian organizations and businesses. GeoEdge has observed campaigns targeting US and Western audiences, charity ads lead to a non-malicious landing page that prompts users to donate money in support of Ukraine via Monobank. Once online audiences donate, it is not possible to confirm donations are sent to the Ukrainian army. User discretion is always advised while donating online– and during heightened online activity, publishers can opt-out of such ads. 

Campaigns Targeting Russian Users with Pro-Ukrainian News 

As the Russian government clamps down on the media, outside actors have started employing a psychological war tactic that uses violent content to draw Russian users to sites, spreading pro-Ukrainian news. The non-malicious ad reads, “What are our real losses?” The landing page then brings the audience to a page stating “Find the truth” and shares multiple links to rock fire videos, Telegram accounts about prisoners, videos of protests around the world, and more.

This approach enables actors to evade Russian censorship and is a core element of information warfare through updates on the situation. Meanwhile, these Telegram channels include highly sensitive and graphic content that may not suit all audiences. The unverified nature of the channels simultaneously makes it difficult to determine whether the information falls under propaganda or misinformation campaigns.

Clickbait Exploits Human Catastrophe to Drive Traffic to Explicit Sites

This campaign is an exemplary clickbait case. It exploits the sensitive situation with inflammatory text, which leads users to an explicit domain that is entirely unrelated to the creative’s message. The ad creative reads, “Putin has billions. You only have your son! Stop this war!” In this campaign, malicious actors prey on the Russian audience’s desire for updated information about young soldiers. This clickbait campaign directs Russian users to explicit video channels, and multiple redirects lead to a strip chat.

As always, publishers are the last line of defense before scams reach the user’s screen. GeoEdge automatically blocks Clickbait leading to sexually explicit sites. Especially during heightened times of online activity, it’s imperative to prevent malicious clickbait in real-time before they reach the page.

Ad Quality Solutions Beyond Security

As the grey zone for suitable and unsuitable ads expands in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war, digital publishers and platforms must stay up to date on new trends to ensure a safe, engaging, brand-suitable digital experience. Reach out to GeoEdge to discuss best practices today.

Alisha is a Technology Writer and Marketing Manager at GeoEdge. Her writing focuses on current events in the AdTech ecosystem and cyberattacks served through the digital advertising supply chain. You can find Alisha on LinkedIn to discuss brand building and happenings in AdTech.

Malvertising, the practice of sprinkling malicious code into legitimate-looking ads is growing more sophisticated. GeoEdge’s holistic ad quality solution has you covered.


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