Political Clickbait Ads Are Hijacking Your Revenue

Consumers crave credible online information, particularly in times when misinformation is rife — for example, during election years and global crises. For digital publishers, now is the time to crack down on deceptive and clickbait advertising to protect their users, revenue and the integrity of their sites.

Managing Risk and Reputation in The “Fake News” Era

During this U.S. election year, as we see an uptick in deceptive ads, misinformation and fake news, publishers are working tirelessly to create content audiences can trust, engage with deeply, and return to. Many are using quality journalism to fuel their subscription and paywall models, but deceptive advertising — such as fake political clickbait ads that contain misleading information and malware are putting that approach at risk. Deceptive advertising and malicious clickbait ultimately lead users to abandon their sessions, never reach the publisher’s site or cause users to never return to the site.

The phenomenon of “fake ads” is a long-standing issue on the ad quality front for publishers — and the 2020 election is expected to be a war of disinformation. Since the beginning of the year, in the long leadup to the 2020 US election, we commonly saw fake ads touting tabloid-variety celebrity news — salacious or “tragic” teasers labeled misleadingly as “news” items.

And more recently, we’ve similarly seen deceptive political ads that link out to questionable landing pages with completely unrelated or low-quality content.

According to a recent survey conducted by GeoEdge in conjunction with Digiday, 69% of publishers said they’ve encountered either a “significant” or “great” amount of fake ads– with publishers citing ads that lead to pages unrelated to the ad creative as their top concern.

Not to mention, publishers report they see a growing number of ads that contain misleading information in the ad content, as the November election creeps closer. 51% of publishers say they expect to deal with deceptive political ads this year — and that’s not just publisher pessimism speaking– Facebook and CNN have both taken the Trump campaign to task for deceptive ads, while leading news publishers continually fact-check claims made by the Trump and Biden campaigns alike.

Tech Giants Take Aim at Misinformation: Does the Hit Connect? 

With fake ads increasingly appearing next to high-quality content, publishers have accelerated their push for brand safety as users have begun to associate the publisher’s message with the advertiser’s message. In the user’s mind, page content and ad creative are part of the same unified experience.

Meanwhile, publishers aren’t the only ones taking aim at deceptive messaging ahead of the 2020 Election. Tech giants like Twitter are cracking down on fake news and implementing new measures to combat the rise of misinformation. In early May, Twitter revealed a new feature geared at limiting the spread of potentially harmful and misleading content by new implementing warning labels on tweets and providing links that offer additional context on some tweets containing disputed or misleading information.


While false or misleading content can take many different forms, In a blog post, Twitter revealed they will take action based on three broad categories

  • Misleading information — statements or assertions that have been confirmed to be false or misleading by subject-matter experts, such as public health authorities.
  • Disputed claims — statements or assertions in which the accuracy, truthfulness, or credibility of the claim is contested or unknown.
  • Unverified claims — information (which could be true or false) that is unconfirmed at the time it is shared.

While content is increasingly being slapped with warning signs – users are left to fend for themselves when it comes to ad quality. In the long lead up to the election, we’ve seen the emergence of fake ads in three main categories:

1) Ads that link to landing pages with content unrelated to the ad creative

2) Ads containing predatory surge prices, images that misrepresent the low-quality products the advertiser is selling, or descriptions of non-existent products like COVID treatments

3) Ads that link out to phishing scams or prompts to download malware.

Because of the tension between users idealized views of journalism and their distrust of news, the return to a more in-depth, truth-seeking habit regarding ad content quality would be a concrete step towards ending user churn and rebuilding publisher-user trust.

Deceptive Ads Have Severe Consequences 

Quality ad content and not just filling ad slots must be part of a publisher’s revenue strategy. According to the aforementioned GeoEdge-Digiday study, 47% of advertisers say they have avoided or ended business partnerships with publishers because those pubs had hosted deceptive ads. Among publishers, 49% said that when users raised complaints over deceptive ads, the consequences for their own business was “severe” or “very severe.”

Amnon Siev, GeoEdges CEO says: “The ad content is a holistic part of the website. If a user clicks on an ad on a publisher’s website that misleads them, that will influence how users see that website and may eventually dilute the brand.”

This should raise alarms: Traffic and engagement give publishers value to advertisers, but advertisers want more than just good traffic. Like users themselves, they want a trustworthy product, and the ads are part of the package.

In ad-supported media, the ad revenue must come from somewhere for a publisher’s business to survive. And when there is a vacuum left from trusted, quality advertisers pulling spend, other advertisers — unfamiliar, lower-spending, and frequently untrustworthy advertisers will try to fill it.

Whether or not those low-quality advertisers succeed in filling that vacuum depends on the individual publisher’s commitment to ad quality. It depends on the publisher’s willingness to monitor and block misleading, inappropriate and harmful ads and on the strength of their security and quality tools.

Maximizing the Efficiency & Effectiveness of Your Ad Ops Team

Far too many publishers, 36% still rely primarily on manual methods for monitoring fake, deceptive and low-quality ads, while 56% of publishers spend a “moderate” or “large” amount of time blocking such ads.

This may seem a bit old-fashioned– after all, publishers are aware that it’s possible to automate these processes but then again, many of those automated solutions are themselves using old-fashioned, blunt-force methods. The fact that 83% of publishers accidentally block ads that meet their standards suggests they’re using outdated methods for blocking bad ads — the cutting edge of ad quality is far beyond all that.

For publishers operating in an open marketplace, an automated solution is an important asset for protecting users and brands alike.

Between DIY solutions for preventing deceptive ads, redirects and malvertising attacks, publishers don’t have a clear holistic solution. Publishers would be best served to seek automated solutions that do the job right the first time and don’t require ad ops teams to do extra clean-up work.

Blunt tools cause publishers to leave money on the table by screening out good ads along with the bad ads, and by keeping ops teams mired in the present and past rather than looking to the future. This is no time to backtrack and solve yesterday’s ad quality problems when every day brings surprising new revenue and workflow challenges.

Choosing an Ad Quality Vendor: A Publishers Checklist 

It’s short-sighted to think of  DIY security workarounds as cost-savers. They may require little to no extra money upfront, but many publishers agree that partnering with a trustworthy security vendor is nothing compared to the loss of traffic, lifetime users and revenue that results from redirects and other malicious attacks through under-secured ad slots.

Sharper ad quality tools allow publishers to block keywords, phrases and industry verticals automatically — and then to drill down, set detailed criteria, and really align ad content with page content. With all the upheaval the digital industry has experienced, programmatic channels are especially important for publishers’ revenue strategies. Those channels are where publishers can discover quality advertisers that can become trusted partners over time.

Here are some qualities to consider in a vendor partner that can take a publisher’s business far beyond what DIY  solutions can deliver:

  • Real-time detection and blocking of threats. A trusted security partner needs the capability to constantly monitor the ad ecosystem, detect known threats to security and quality, flag emerging threats before they become known, and block them before they reach the publisher’s page. 
  • Lightweight integration. When you know you need best-in-class security solutions, you have no time to waste. A trusted security partner needs to offer easy, fast integration that starts working for you immediately and doesn’t take your teams away from their important work.
  • Cross-platform/cross-device effectiveness. In an increasingly mobile reality, a security solution must be effective in the browser and the app. Relying on browser functions is simply not sufficient to combat the array of security threats today.
  • Insights across multiple publisher sites and platforms. Security threats are best understood in the context of the digital ecosystem at large. In order to understand known threats and detect emerging threats, a security solution needs to collect and analyze data from a wide range of sources.


Curious about the financial risks associated with serving clickbait campaigns and deceptive advertising? Take a look out our latest report: Download Here 

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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