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Last week I came across an article about Johnson & Johnson and other pharma companies pulling their ads from Youtube because they appeared adjacent to hate speech, e.g.; an anti-Semitic clip claiming the existence of a “Jewish World Order” (see the back story embedded at the end of this post or click here).

In an official statement Johnson & Johnson said it paused all YouTube digital advertising globally “to ensure our product advertising does not appear on channels that promote offensive content. We take this matter very seriously and will continue to take every measure to ensure our brand advertising is consistent with our brand values.”

According to a Bloomberg article, “While Google’s tools can be incredibly sophisticated, allowing ads to follow users from site to site, the software hasn’t fully matched the human judgment necessary to protect brands from inadvertently funneling cash to causes their customers would find objectionable. The high number of intermediaries in digital advertising further complicates the problem. So Google’s announced fixes may not completely solve the challenge.”

This problem, however is NOT limited to Google, YouTube, and Facebook. It’s also a problem for pharma digital marketers looking to place ads in major online media channels.

A case in point is the Janssen ad embedded in a STATnews story about a immunotherapy “breakthrough” (see image at left).

What’s the problem with this and can pharma companies do anything to place limits on digital ad placement by taking account of context?

The Janssen ad is titled “Janssen Immunology” and touts how the company is committed to “creating a world free from immune diseases.” Meanwhile, the surrounding article tells a story of how immunotherapy is being overhyped by another pharmaceutical company.

“Surrounding context matters,” notes Integral Ad Science, a company that measures digital ad viewability. “If it is misaligned to your brand image, then both the campaign and brand can suffer. As publishers expand the scope of their content, the chance of unsafe context also increases. The risk is even higher when buying impressions on exchanges and networks, where an estimated 13.7 percent of placements could be adjacent to brand damaging context, such as adult themes, hate speech, alcohol, bad language, or illegal downloads.”

I have been assured by @feedkastCharles, CEO of Watzan Labs, a “Big Data” solution for digital advertising, that “many COs we work with have internal policies to not display ads on pages with contra-indicated works. They supply a list.”

The fault, it appears, is the limitation of lists. Perhaps it never crossed the minds of Janssen marketers that their ads could be placed adjacent to negative content about immunotherapy.

In any case, I don’t think this example is a big deal, but I am sure there are many other cases where context has had a negative impact on pharma digital ads and brands. This is especially true when marketers use programmatic advertising and real-time bidding.

“The reality for real-time bidding is that there are many sites with low-quality content, high views and no direct sales force,” DoubleVerify CEO Oren Netzer was quoted as saying in an AdWeek article (here). “It is a challenge for advertisers which use real-time bidding technology to ensure brand safety without integrations with verification data. This underscores the importance of verifying campaigns continuously. Advertisers need to proactively approach targeting to brand-safe content because if they already know what content they don’t want to be on, they should be able to target content that they know will be good for their brand.”