There’s never a good time for a company to advertise on Kremlin propaganda channels while it remains a hostile authoritarian regime. The topic was already on our agenda in 2017, then again in 2019 when we highlighted both bad examples and responsible companies and revealed the magnitude of the nature of the problem.
However, after Russia launched its full scale war against Ukraine, Propastop put greater focus on the companies that continued to do so, despite those channels being used to promote war propaganda.
We consider such advertising to be completely unacceptable for supporting hostile propaganda and aggression using the money of consumers here in Estonia.
There are still plenty of advertisers
While some companies have wisely changed their policies since we highlighted the problem, Propastop has continued to monitor these channels and the problem has not gone away completely. You can still watch the Kremlin’s war propaganda every day with new advertisements of local companies that are displayed to Internet users from Estonia. Financing of aggression from Estonian marketing budgets continues at full speed. Unfortunately, the list also includes a few Estonian state institutions that subsidise Putin’s propaganda media with taxpayer’s money.
Almost unbelievably, there are even companies that informed Propastop in spring 2022 that they will no longer publish such advertising, but have broken their promise. Half a year later, their ads can be found again next to stories justifying Putin’s aggression.
Giving up is easy
Ignorance combined with indifference is probably the main reason for advertising on Kremlin propaganda channels. Therefore, it is important that every reader also informs his workplace, the offending company, advertising and media brokerage companies about the problem. Then it’s easy to opt out of advertising in the Google Adwords environment with this easy-to-follow step-by-step guide.
It is also reasonable to notify the withdrawal at the e-mail address [email protected] However, Propastop is not going to supplement this story afterwards and add the corresponding marks next to the names of those who announced their withdrawal. Therefore, we recommend that companies also announce their promise to stop advertising on their own website and social media channels.
Updated: as of October 11th, Coop Bank, Rahva Raamat, Topauto (via digital advertising company WOW digtal), Teooria.ee, Simplbooks, Ministry of Agriculture (via media company Mediabroker) have announced the future exclusion of such advertising.
They published advertisements on the Kremlin’s war propaganda channels
Below is a list of around 50 Estonian companies or companies with branches located in Estonia, whose advertisements between August 19 and October 9, 2022, attracted buyers in these propaganda channels. Propastop has documented screenshots of all the examples.
The reason why some Estonian advertisers end up in post of shame is surprising
On October 10, Propastop published a story highlighting more than 50 Estonian-related companies that publish their advertisements on the Kremlin’s war channels.
After the story was published, Propastop was contacted by several companies on the list. They confirmed and proved that they have disabled the publication of their campaigns in the Google web browser on the propaganda pages referred to by Propastop. However, their customers’ ads continue to be displayed on these pages.
Investigating the causes of the problem revealed a surprising conclusion: Google’s updated advertising tool is not working properly
Google launched an advertising tool called Performance Max in November 2021. In Estonia, its use began to grow from spring 2022. It is a powerful tool that brings together all Google advertising options in one environment: search, news, maps, YouTube, etc.
Unfortunately, Performance Max has a significant drawback. It does allow you to insert exclusion lists into your campaigns (that is, lists of websites where you don’t want to show ads, e.g. Propastop’s blacklist). But due to a fault the exclusion doesn’t work in reality. Ads will still be placed on pages that the advertiser wants to exclude.
Therefore, companies that use Performance Max to publish their Google ads cannot be sure where their ads will end up. Propaganda pages are not excluded, but also, for example, porn sites or other inappropriate content, next to which it is not recommended to display your ad.
What is the solution?
Propastop recommends avoiding Performance Max and using Google’s other advertising tools instead. They are more clumsy, but they do their job properly, at least in terms of the given topic. We also recommend that ad buyers contact Google and request that exclusion lists be set up in Performance Max as well.
The request to fix the tool is in line with Google’s broader policy: namely, the global advertising giant has also taken steps to prevent advertising money from falling into the hands of Kremlin-owned propaganda channels.
Tool error is not the only cause
It should be noted that a bug in Google’s ad tool is not the main reason why ads end up on propaganda pages. The feedback that comes to Prostopop highlights two common reasons:
– Ignorance: Advertisers are not aware of the problem and the options for ad exclusion.
– Human error: as a rule, advertising is avoided in propaganda channels, but in some individual campaigns, the exclusion list has been forgotten to be activated.
Whatever the reasons, Propastop considers the publication of advertisements on the Kremlin’s propaganda channels inadmissible in any case. It is the advertiser’s duty to ensure that its marketing budget is not supported by the Russian regime’s information warfare.
MyBee was originally included in this list, but they looked into the issue, fixed it, and notified us. They clarified that their ads are handled by Google and that their marketing partner does not target any specific platforms, but they take the matter seriously and will make every effort to ensure their advertisements do not appear on blacklisted platforms in future. They added that they do not support the Kremlin in any way and fully condemn Russia’s war in Ukraine. We thank MyBee for acting swiftly.