Lieff Cabraser is investigating reports that Gannett, the dominant U.S. mass media holding company and largest American newspaper publisher, gave paying advertisers inaccurate and misleading information on the placement and spending for literally billions of ads over a period of at least nine months in 2021 and 2022. Among other disturbing allegations, reports indicate Gannett provided information to advertisers to lead them to think they were buying ads on one Gannett site — frequently its flagship USA Today — but were in fact given ad space on a different, separate and lower-profile Gannett property of considerably lesser advertising value.
As noted by the Wall Street Journal, Gannett owns USA Today “as well as much smaller news outlets in 46 U.S. states, from the Arizona Republic to the Detroit Free Press to the Palm Beach Post.” Like many such publishers, it auctions ad space on its sites through a real-time digital market that by design drives ad costs as high as possible via a black-box bidding system whose workings are completely hidden from buyers.
In the wake of The WSJ‘s damning exposé, Gannet has admitted publicly that it provided false information and “regrets the error,” which it claims was completely unintentional. The company is still “determining” whether it will issue refunds to advertisers, many of whose bids reflect specific placement rules for audience and location targeting that were simply ignored. (An example given was that ads meant for Florida were instead placed in New Mexico, as well as that buyers who thought their ads would appear nationally in USA Today that were instead shown only in a vastly smaller single-state market.)
Worse, as the Journal notes, it wasn’t just specific ad-target websites that was were wholly misrepresented in auctions, but also the content to be viewed by the ad audience — for example, advertisers were told an article accompanying their ad “was about the viral game Wordle when it was actually about bear cubs in Pennsylvania.”
The companies affected include some of the largest brands and retailers in the world, including Ford, State Farm, Nike, Kia, Marriott, and Sears.
If you suspect that your ad business was adversely affected by Gannett’s fraudulent conduct, we urge you to use the form on this page to contact a business fraud lawyer today at Lieff Cabraser about your case and potential recovery. There is no charge for our review of your data, and any and all information you provide will be kept in the strictest confidence.