Beware: Clickbait advertorials and “content discovery” feeds have been implicated in an increasing number of deepfake scam ad campaigns for years.

So, other than the obvious benefits of partnering clickbait content providers, what are the major risks and potential brand damage?

  1. Reputational damage

    1. Low-quality content: These platforms often promote low-quality, misleading, or sensationalist content. Associating with such content can tarnish a brand’s reputation.
    2. Negative consumer perceptions: Users may perceive the partnering brand as endorsing or supporting clickbait, leading to a loss of trust and credibility. This distrust is exponentially amplified when a major scam is uncovered and attributed to a clickbait content provider and the website that hosted its advertorials. With social media reach, the distrust can spread to encompass all websites and products associated the brands and industry implicated in the scam.
  2. Ad fraud and invalid traffic

    1. Bot traffic: Clickbait content often attracts non-human traffic (bots), leading to inflated metrics and wasted ad spend.
    2. Misleading metrics: The performance metrics from clickbait campaigns can be deceptive, showing high engagement but low-quality leads or conversions.
  3. User experience degradation

    1. Annoying ads: Clickbait ads can be intrusive and disrupt the user experience, leading to user dissatisfaction and potentially driving users away from the platform.
    2. Misleading content: Users who click on these ads and advertorials expecting valuable content may feel deceived, resulting in a negative user experience.
  4. Brand safety concerns

    1. Inappropriate content: Clickbait platforms may display ads next to inappropriate or offensive content, which can reflect poorly on the brand.
    2. Lack of control: Brands often have limited control over where the clickbait content and ads appear, increasing the risk of being associated with unsuitable content. As this writer has just discovered, scams, fake news, dis/mis-information and exaggerated claims are now rotated so that the same story headline may link to the actual scam at a certain time, and at another time, link to a similar story with offending materials absent.
  5. Regulatory and compliance issues

    1. False advertising: Promoting clickbait content can lead to regulatory scrutiny and potential legal issues related to false advertising and consumer protection laws.
    2. Data privacy: Some content-feed providers with a poor history of responsible marketing may not comply with stringent data privacy regulations, posing risks related to data breaches and non-compliance fines to their partner host sites.
  6. Poor or masked outcomes

    1. Low-quality leads: Clickbait content often attracts users with low purchase intent, resulting in poor conversion rates and low return on investment.
    2. High bounce rates: Users who realize they have been misled are likely to leave the site quickly, leading to high bounce rates and low engagement. Through social media, they can share their bad experiences to warn many others to avoid the main website that hosts such contentious “content discovery” materials. Some legitimate media content websites actually allow clickbait content providers to use the former’s quality content in clickbait feeds. This helps to dilute some of the bad rep of clickbait feeds, but the websites allowing their materials to be used “around the Web” may one day find the scheme backfiring.
  7. Negative impact on Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

    1. Decreased trust signals: Search engines may penalize sites that frequently host clickbait content or ads, impacting organic search rankings..
    2. Poor user signals: High bounce rates and low dwell time can negatively affect SEO performance, as search engines interpret these as signals of low-quality content.

Mitigation strategies

If any website or social media property still chooses to partner with clickbait content providers, it will need to mitigate the abovementioned risks:

  1. Set clear guidelines: Establish clear guidelines and expectations for the type of content promoted by third party content partners, and what the latter do with your own content in any “content-sharing” arrangements.
  2. Thoroughly vet third party content feed providers: Ensure they adhere to high-quality standards, and align with your brand’s mission, values and sense of corporate integrity.
  3. Use brand safety tools: Implement tools and strategies to monitor and control where ads appear, the actual quality and credibility of the content, and also provide transparent and easy channels for visitors to report anomalies.
  4. Focus on quality over quantity: Prioritize quality traffic and user engagement over sheer volume.

Finally, when cybersecurity, fraud management and self-censoring best practices are left to market forces in a digital-fragmented world, lapses have a way of surfacing; or worse — they remain as latent fault lines waiting to erupt in tandem with malicious criminal activities. This is where concerted governmental oversight and collaborations across geographical boundaries have to come in preemptively.