The dirty little secret of digital ad networks

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December 12, 2016 by Paul Dughi

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In the rush to move to digital advertising, there’s been an awful lot of ad dollars wasted because people didn’t really know what they were buying.

Remember the early days of the world wide web?  People reported “hits” – which we then learned equated to server calls and could be as little as a pixel on a page.  Webmasters gamed the system adding multiple items to a page to jack up the hits.  One page might have hundreds of hits if it was designed to do that.

Ad networks, which can push ads out to hundreds of websites, have gained a ton of traction in the past few years.  But there’s a dirty little secret there as wellWhat consumer may not know is that advertisers often buy into ad networks.  They are pools of advertising that are aggregated and sold in bundles, spread out across hundreds or even thousands of websites.  If you buy in, you typically won’t know on which websites the ads show up. Even the big spenders don’t always know where their ads are running.

You may get a list, but who has the time to check out the thousands of names of websites you’ve never heard of?  You’re more interested in reaching target consumers than where your ads are showing up.

This can cause a problem when your ad shows up in a less-than-politically-correct site and suddenly you’re drawn into the controversy.

Post-election, all this talk about fake news sites making money off ads is finally causing some marketers to think about where their ads are running.  Run your ad in the wrong place and you can get consumer backlash.

It’s not just fake news sites though.  It’s any site your ad shows up that puts you into an uncomfortable controversy.

Kellogg's-Logo.svg.pngThat’s what Kellogg Company decided when its ads served on Brietbart News.  Frosted Mini Wheats really doesn’t want to be pulled into a controversy.  Heck, they just want to sell cereal.  But activists targeted the website after they said it provides a platform for racist and anti-Semitic viewpoints.  That’s not what a cereal wants to be associated with.  Whether the claims were true or not really didn’t matter.  Kellogg’s cereals were being dragged into the conversation in a negative way.

They had customer complaints about the ads appearing on the site.  I suspect they’ll get complaints from customers that support Brietbart as well after pulling the ads.

They’re not alone.  Allstate, Nest, Vanguard, and several others have decided to remove Brietbart from their ad network buys despite the fact that the site has more than 12 million visitors a month.

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Allstate responded to one customer complaint saying “The nature of internet media buys is such that we are not able to receive full disclosure with regards to all the websites on which our advertising may run.”

It’s not just Breitbart, though.  59% of marketers responded to a poll from the Association of National Advertisers, saying they felt there were significant problems with transparency about where ads run.

206267And that’s the real story here.

Think about the billions of dollars that are spent on digital advertising that they people that spend that money have no idea where it’s showing up.  Can I make a suggestion?  Pull back on these generic ad networks and put some of the dollars on premium sites.  You know, the ones people hear the brand name and think quality.  The ones people trust in the community you’re trying to reach.

I work for one of those quality, brand name, premium websites.  We’re a safe bet for ads.  We can deliver the same audience without the controversy in an established, trusted environment.  And we’ll tell you where your ads are running.  If I can help, let me know.

 

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