Vodafone CEO cracks down on intolerable ad placements

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 8 June 2017

Following the rise of fake news sites and hate speech online, Vodafone has updated its global policies on advertising transparency and integrity in order to prevent its ads from appearing in undesirable locations.

Working with its global agency network WPP, Google and Facebook, the telco has enforced new rules focused on hate speech and fake news outlets.

The brand says the rapid growth of digital advertising over the past decade has provided it with opportunities to reach consumers and businesses online. The trade off is that automated ad tech uses algorithms to deliver digital advertising to targeted demos and this has caused problems.

“Advertisers such as Vodafone risk their brands being marketed within outlets that are fundamentally at odds with their values and beliefs as a company while inadvertently providing a source of funding for those outlets,” a Vodafone spokesperson says.

In July last year, Vodafone appointed WPP's GroupM to handle its media business as part of a global realignment that saw a dedicated 'Team Red' unit set up in this market. The account previously sat with Bohemia. In March it further aligned with WPP by handing all creative to JWT. It was previously with Cummins&Partners.

Vodafone Group chief executive Vittorio Colao says in a small minority of instances it can lead to unintended and potentially harmful outcomes, such as advertising generating revenue for outlets focused on hate speech and fake news.

By means of a whitelist-based approach using content controls implemented by its agency, Vodafone’s new parameters are intended to prevent its advertising from appearing “within outlets focused on creating and sharing hate speech and fake news”.

It says the new controls ensure that Vodafone advertisements are only served within selected outlets identified as highly unlikely to be focused on harmful content. These measures will be reviewed regularly by Vodafone and its agency network to ensure the selection of outlets for whitelisting is appropriate and neither too broad nor too narrow.

As reported extensively by AdNews, many global brands suspended digital advertising spend following dubious placements found on terrorism sites.

The problem wasn't restricted to the UK. A five-minute YouTube search revealed a Foxtel pre-roll preceded an interview with Reclaim Australia members loaded with racist rhetoric. The video was placed by an independent filmmaker not linked to the group.

Another search found a University of NSW ad alongside a video by a Russian jihadi with a Twin Waters Resort banner over the top.

"Hate speech and fake news threaten to undermine the principles of respect and trust that bind communities together,” Colao says.

“Vodafone has a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion; we also greatly value the integrity of the democratic processes and institutions that are often the targets of purveyors of fake news. We will not tolerate our brand being associated with this kind of abusive and damaging content."

The new rules are now in effect and also include Vodafone's definition of hate speech and fake news for the purposes of determining whether or not a particular outlet should carry Vodafone advertising.

The new rules:

Blocking advertising on hate speech and fake news outlets

Vodafone, third parties acting on its behalf and its advertising platform suppliers (including, but not limited to, Google and Facebook) must take all measures necessary to ensure that Vodafone advertising does not appear within hate speech and fake news outlets. We define these as outlets whose predominant purpose is the dissemination of content that is:

Deliberately intended to degrade women or vulnerable minorities (“hate speech”); or
Presented as fact-based news (as opposed to satire or opinion) that has no credible primary source (or relies on fraudulent attribution to a primary source) with what a reasonable person would conclude is the deliberate intention to mislead (“fake news”).

Note that:

The term “outlet” encompasses all social media, digital, print and broadcast channels, sites, apps, programmes and publications;

The term “advertising” encompasses all forms of brand promotion including advertising, advertorial, sponsorship and co-marketing arrangements; and:

These mandatory rules apply to all Vodafone brands, subsidiary brands, joint venture brands and sub-brands.

The hate speech and fake news definitions, above, apply to an outlet as a whole. The test is whether or not the predominant purpose of the entire outlet is to communicate and share this kind of harmful material. An outlet that carries some hate speech or fake news content – but where the majority of content disseminated would not meet the tests above – must not be categorised as warranting exclusion from advertising whitelists on hate speech/fake news grounds.

The rules above are designed to protect the integrity of Vodafone’s brands and sub-brands and relate purely to restrictions on advertising placement. They do not, and must never, be used as the basis for restrictions on access to content by our customers (or any other users) who must remain free to create, view and share all lawful content as they choose.

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