Agencies on comment section ads: ‘I don’t see an upside for brands’

The comment section has suddenly become valuable real estate for publishers.

Commenting platform Livefyre last week announced a new feature that would let publishers using its platform sell placements within their comment sections. Livefyre’s move, which followed a similar one by rival commenting platform Disqus, makes sense to publishers eager to turn any available real estate into potential ad revenue. The bottoms of their pages have remained largely untapped, which is why so many publishers have embraced content-recommendation widgets such as Taboola and Outbrain.

But when it comes to comment sections, agencies say there’s plenty of reason for skepticism.

Jeanne Bright, vp of paid social and strategy at Digitas, said she didn’t see much of an upside for clients. “I think it would take a certain type of brand to want to run on this ad type — one that is willing to be exposed to and manage potential risk,” she said. “I personally would not recommend this ad type for brands I work on.”

Steve DeAngelis, vp of client solutions at M&C Saatchi Mobile, said that the potential of advertising next to racist or trolling comments isn’t worth the risk for most brands, particularly large, conservative ones. “Even despite the controls they might implement, there is still some risk of that happening,” he said.

Disqus and Livefyre offer slightly different products. While Livefyre’s ads appear within comment feeds, those on Disqus appear above them, which could alleviate some agency concerns about brand safety.

David Denton, chief product officer at Evolve Media, which uses the Disqus platform, said that the commenting platforms’ moderation technology has gotten much more effective at limiting spam and hostile comments. “I don’t see the comments as such a terrible place to be.”

Still, the agency wariness toward advertising in comment sections is unsurprising, given that the average comment section can be ground zero for the worst of human expression. This is particularly true for publishers with busy comments sections that aren’t actively moderated.

Some publishers have cited this problem in getting rid of their comments sections entirely. This summer, both The Daily Dot and The Verge shut down their comments, which they said had become too hard to manage. The Week, Mic, Reuters and Re/Code all shut down commenting last year for similar reasons.

An example of Livefyre’s in-comment ads.


Despite the risks of advertising near or in comment sections, some see potential in the idea, assuming the spam and trolling are kept to a minimum.

“As long as the filtering and monitoring are in place to determine when it’s right to insert a brand ad, the comment section could be a highly engaging area to share a marketer’s message,” said Steve Carbone, chief digital officer at MediaCom.

M&C Saatchi Mobile’s DeAngelis said that despite the risks inherent in advertising within comments, he’s open to “cautiously experimenting” with the format, particularly with direct-response campaigns.

“We always want to be very selective with the publishers we work on behalf of,” he said. “If there are strong results, we can set a lot of that brand concern to the side.”

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