When most people think of Display Advertising, they don’t necessarily associate it with problematic or controversial content. Who can blame them? It’s difficult to imagine that immensely popular marketing tools such as Display Ads could cause any harm. Think about it, there’s only so much damage that an image or illustration featuring promotional text can do…..right? Right….?

Well, apparently this assumption isn’t just naïve, it’s also very far removed from the truth. More than half of the world’s population is now acquainted with the delights and pitfalls of the internet. So, since it’s pretty far-fetched to assume that everyone on the internet is well-intentioned, you can see why problematic content has made its way everywhere….even into Display Advertising.

An important thing to remember with display advertising – or online marketing in general – is that there’s more than one aspect to it. You simply cannot say that XYZ is the problem with display advertising and so and so are the steps we’ll have to take to avoid it. If only it were that simple! A multifaceted tool has multifaceted problems is what I’m driving at here. There are many traps that online advertisers fall (or willingly jump) into regarding display marketing.

One of these is – the most obvious of all – is using hate speech to promote their products or services. Using hate speech and symbols as promotional tools would appear distasteful, even unimaginable to most companies, but there are many that employ them all the same. The trouble with having hate speech in display ads is that it isn’t always easy to identify. What may appear hateful to a certain group of individuals may appear perfectly innocuous to others. And of course, Google has made very clear statements about this in their content policies

When using the same or similar ads across different regions that have distinct cultural, social, and religious constructs rooted firmly in place, a lot can get lost in translation. In this way, what is considered to be top-notch promotional content in one country can be perceived as offensive and destructive in another. As an advertiser, it therefore becomes your responsibility to conduct adequate research on the prevailing social, cultural, and other norms in the regions in which you plan to feature your display ads.

After all, it doesn’t matter if a brilliant marketing idea is bringing in a large number of sales in one region when audiences are looking to boycott – or as is the modern term – ‘cancel’ your brand in another. Trading an increased sales volume for your brand image and reputation can prove to be a terrible mistake in the long run. Bear in mind that modern history isn’t kind to those companies that indulged in hateful ad campaigns to win over audiences in the short run.

Another problematic aspect of display advertising is the widespread distribution of misinformation. Granted, boosting click-through rates and positive engagement in general — is one of the main goals of display advertising in the first place. However, this doesn’t mean that click-bait content should be used when false claims are involved. I mean, let’s be honest here, the reason why PPC specialists are enjoying such high demand now is because they can capture a viewer’s attention in a split second, get them to click on a display ad, and prompt them to make a purchase. However, there’s a fine line between making false claims to promote your brand and playing up your brand’s strengths to garner interest among viewers. A good PPC expert will know the difference between these, as will a well-informed viewer.

For instance, most of us can tell when an ad we come across online is being plain sales‑y vs when it’s being straight up insincere. Think of it this way, would you be more likely to click on an ad that says ‘Earn up to 10 million dollars playing cards online’ or one that says ‘Learn how to invest your money smartly using XYZ online course’? See the difference? The former is a problematic ad because it’s almost certainly a lie, whereas the latter only entails prompting viewers to boost their investment skills, which is hardly a far-fetched claim by any stretch.

However, the example I’ve outlined above is rather extreme and most viewers would likely be able to tell right away that it’s false advertising. What about the more subtle forms of false advertising prevalent today? There are countless companies out there that make claims regarding boosting the health of users with supplements, diet plans, and more that simply aren’t verified. These companies seldom (if ever) mention the side-effects of using such supplements and essentially dupe users into believing that they’re trustworthy.

Now, this isn’t to say that all brands that produce supplements, etc. are untrustworthy. This is merely to highlight one of the many disturbingly popular trends in online advertising of late – claiming that a product is effective because it’s been clinically tested. What such ads fail to mention is that clinically tested doesn’t mean clinically approved! Even though such ads aren’t distasteful or unsavory, they’re often considered to be the last resort for companies that just don’t have anything substantial to offer customers. The healthcare and wellness industry is just one example here, you’d be sure to find such instances of creatively insincere claims in every major industry.

Therefore, if you want audiences to perceive your brand as one that has quality products and services to offer them, you should ideally use any means at your disposal to ensure you don’t indulge in using hate speech or false advertising. While these are just a couple of the many problematic aspects of display advertising, they’re certainly the most damaging. Remember, if viewers get a glimpse of the depths you’re willing to sink to just to generate profit, your brand is very unlikely to make it to the top or stay there for long. All said and done Display Ads are tools to be wielded with caution, not weapons to be tossed around for the sake of sensationalism.