Why didn’t these companies know they were advertising on Breitbart?

Companies often don't know where their ads end up appearing. Sometimes they follow a user around the Internet, to whatever sites they visit.

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/File
Kellogg's Corporation, whose Corn Flakes was seen here at a Ralph's grocery store in Pasadena, Calif., in 2015, has taken steps to ensure its ads no longer show up on Breitbart.

Food manufacturer Kellogg’s will join a growing list of companies that are taking steps to block their ads from appearing on Breitbart News, after pressure from social media users.

The site, formerly edited by President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign chair and chief strategist Stephen Bannon, is a popular media platform for the “alt-right,” a white supremacist movement. The site regularly features articles with a racist, misogynist, anti-Muslim, or anti-Semitic bent.

“We regularly work with our media-buying partners to ensure our ads do not appear on sites that are not aligned with our values as a company,” Kris Charles, a spokeswoman for Kellogg’s, told the Associated Press. “We recently reviewed the list of sites where our ads can be placed and decided to discontinue advertising on Breitbart.com. We are working to remove our ads from that site.”

Other companies to cut ads on the site include insurance company Allstate, Internet service provider EarthLink, pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk, online glasses retailer Warby Parker, and the San Diego Zoo.

The fact that many of the companies apparently didn’t know that their ads were appearing there seems to highlight how new ad technologies have loosened companies’ grip over their brand’s associations.

Companies usually buy ads for general types of websites – such as those that feature news content – rather than for specific sites, as McClatchy notes. And while companies can filter out sites considered objectionable for one reason or another, “retargeted ads” that follow users around the web from one site to another are especially susceptible to popping up in places that companies might otherwise avoid.

“It becomes a lot easier for buyers to lose a degree of control over where their ads run,” Ari Paparo, chief executive officer of online inventory bidder Beeswax, told Digiday.

“A marketer may use a whitelist or a verification vendor to protect against running on objectionable sites, but it is an inexact science," he said. "A site that is offensive but not obviously a hate/porn/illegal site might pass unless someone is specifically looking to block it.”

Both Allstate and Warby Parker said that they didn’t know their ads showed up on Breitbart.

“Warby Parker does not buy advertising from Breitbart News Network directly,” said a Warby Parker spokeswoman. “If one of our ads appears on a Breitbart site, it’s due to a sale through third-party ad networks or ad exchanges. We are looking into actively blocking our ads from appearing on Breitbart News Network.”

Other companies, of course, are less upset to see their products associated with a news site that drew in 19.2 million unique visitors in the United States in October. Nissan, for example, said in a statement to Bloomberg that its ads appearing on Breitbart were “not intended to be a political commentary,” adding that it had “no plans to change the advertising mix at this time.”

Breitbart, which rejects associations with white nationalism and other discredited far-right ideologies, released a statement to the Associated Press that condemned Kellogg’s decision.

“Kellogg’s decision to blacklist one of the largest conservative media outlets in America is economic censorship of mainstream conservative political discourse,” it said. “That is as un-American as it gets.”

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