SPH responds to brand safety concerns for travel-related ads on plane crash news

While Mediacorp has discontinued ads from running alongside news articles of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) has not yet halted its ads running alongside the articles.

At the time of writing, Marketing spotted AirAsia ads promoting "free seats" running alongside a news article on the deadly plane crash on The Straits Times. Meanwhile, Sompo Insurance ad on ST yesterday featured a call to action for viewers to "buy now" before its promotion ends. Marketing understands that Sompo was unaware prior, and is currently checking with its media agency to rectify the situation. AirAsia did not respond to Marketing’s queries.

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In a statement to Marketing, SPH chief marketing officer Ignatius Low confirmed that the advertisements were bought programmatically on an open marketplace and not from SPH directly.

"Any brand safety filters designed to prevent an ad from appearing alongside inappropriate news content typically come from the programmatic ad exchange or network that resold our ad space. Such brand safety filters are an added service which are chargeable [by the programmatic ad exchange bought from]," he said.

Low added had the advertiser bought the ad space directly from SPH, brand safety filters would have been automatically applied and such a situation would not have happened. He added:
The example highlights the trade-offs that come with buying digital advertising cheaply through the lowest cost open marketplace (OMP) programmatic channels.

"We don't believe that SPH as a vendor should automatically apply brand safety filters to any remnant inventory we supply to OMP programmatic channels. This is because we don't have a direct relationship with an OMP advertiser that chooses to buy through a third party."

"We have no knowledge of their campaign objectives or approach and cannot be expected to make a judgement on whether accompanying news content is appropriate or not. In this example, some may have thought the appearance of an insurance ad next to an air crash story to be not at all a mistake, and actually quite clever and tactical," he said.

SPH also stressed that currently, although it doesn't put any brand filters on remnant inventory it sells to OMP programmatic exchanges as a vendor, it does automatically apply brand safe filters to inventory bought directly from it.

Meanwhile, Mediacorp said yesterday that in such cases it reviews its ad placements and "activates a process to identify commercial content that may appear insensitive or inappropriate in the context of the incident". The process involves various measures including identifying relevant keywords and metatags to cover all references, direct or indirect, to the incident. The spokesperson said the process is "dynamic and happens in real time and is not restricted to a point-in-time exercise". The crisis response mechanism is kept activated for as long as it is needed.