Estonian companies stop advertising on Kremlin propaganda sites


Every day, Estonian companies advertise extensively on Kremlin propaganda sites. Is this a problem? Propastop thinks it is.

We consider it a wrong situation, when advertising money from Estonia supports activities against Estonia society. It is cynical to direct funds from advertising budgets to foreign channels that are destroying our country and society. Such actions are irresponsible and must end.

The advertising of Estonian companies is massive

Since the summer of 2020, the volunteers of our blog have recorded advertisements that are on Kremlin propaganda sites to web visitors from Estonia. For example, we examined one of the most important weapons of the Kremlin’s information war, the international newspaper (the activities of the Estonian branch of Sputnik have been terminated).

Dozens of Estonian banners can be seen on this website every day. Everyone can see for themselves when they visit the site. Companies with high market power, such as Estonian banks and telecom companies, advertise here. There are even more ads with smaller advertisers, such as car dealers and online stores. Some examples are curious, for example, Tallink, who recently received a lot of financial support from the Estonian state, directs its advertising money to a website, which directs incitement against Estonia. The technology park, which receives funding from the European Union, also advertises there. Read here for a more detailed list of companies advertising on Kremlin channels.

Do companies do this consciously?
On November 10, we sent extracts of our research to five companies. Swedbank, SEB, Luminor, Telia and Tele2 received the letter. We asked if management was aware that their company’s ads were appearing on propaganda sites, and how they felt about the topic. As of today, we have received answers from Swedbank, Luminor and Telia.

None of the communications and marketing departments of these three companies were aware that their company was advertising on such websites. “This information came as a real surprise to us,” said Katrin Isotamm, Telia’s Head of Communications.

Ads are automatically ordered through Google Adwords and details of where they are published are not known. Often, subscriptions are made through a media company, which also does not analyze publishing sites in detail. Some companies have not figured out how to exclude propaganda sites from their advertising plans, while others do not control where the ads actually appear.

Responsible companies have withdrawn from these sites
It seems that raising awareness helps to solve the problem – if a company becomes aware of its activities that are detrimental to Estonia, it is ready to give it up immediately.

All three companies in question immediately announced that they had stopped advertising at those sites. “We have added the webpage referenced in your letter to the ban. Therefore, our ads should no longer be seen in any of the channels you have highlighted, ”said Karel Hanni, Luminor’s Head of Public Relations.

Kristiina Herodes, Swedbank’s Head of Communications, went even further: “In our opinion, this is a case of fraud towards us, ie Swedbank’s advertising is used to build trust in the webpage.” Herodes points out that Sputnik is a malware website that uses dynamic addresses to shuffle up and hide any traces of their true identity. We will write more about this topic in some of our future posts.

SEB and Tele2 have not yet responded to the inquiry. Consequently, we must currently consider these companies to be irresponsible advertisers who are not interested in the cohesion and security of Estonian society.

Fortunately, stopping ads on propaganda channels is very easy.
Here is a list of society disrupting channels and a step-by-step guide to excluding them from the Google AdWords network.

Anyone can help stop advertising on propaganda channels. If you work for a company that advertises, send a link to this post to your marketing manager. Ask for confirmation that your company does not practice the activities described here.

Similarly, if you see ads for Estonian companies on any propaganda sites, send a letter to that company with a proposal to stop such advertising.

Propastop will continue to keep the topic in focus. In about a month, we will publish a story listing the companies that continue to advertise on propaganda channels during November and December. In other words, irresponsible Estonian companies that will not give up funding the Kremlin’s society disrupting activities.

Pictures: screenshots of Estonian companies’ ads on propaganda sites.