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So the (pretty much) inevitable happened today when several major companies pulled their campaigns from Facebook after the offensive images appeared next to their adverts.

As the FT reported it:

Adverts for Japanese carmaker Nissan, Nationwide, the UK’s largest building society, Unilever’s Dove skincare brand, were automatically placed next to the offensive images that Facebook users either sought out or stumbled upon accidentally. To the companies’ embarrassment, screenshots juxtaposing the misogynistic images with their products were then widely circulated.

Interestingly, the FT notes that there is some connection between Facebook’s ad targeting technology and this bad placement. The article is not clear about how such a link led to the unfortunate juxtapositions, but there seems to be some connection:

Major advertisers including Nissan and Nationwide have suspended Facebook marketing campaigns after their ads appeared alongside offensive posts, highlighting the risks of a new form of “targeted” advertising.

It seems that this time the targets of the problems reacted quickly and not much damage was done, but the episode serves to highlight the risk minefield that is social media today. Whether it’s an account hack or, as in this case, some technological hiccup, pretty much all corporates know that they are on these sites at some peril. My personal guess is that most of the time and money spent on being present on these sites is hardly worth the effort, but since everyone is being told that not doing it is tantamount to corporate brand suicide, companies continue to expose themselves to platforms that, to date at least, seem much more capable of harm than good.

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Posted by Carlos Alvarenga

Carlos Alvarenga is the Executive Director of World 50 ThinkLabs and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland's Smith School of Business.

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