Categories Advertising

Seen in all the right places

The rise of programmatic trading is putting ever-more pressure on brands to make sure they know where their online ads are appearing.

An advert for Nike’s latest running shoe must have involved a concerted effort from its marketing team to get the messaging and visuals just right. What probably was not planned, though, was it appearing next to a story about whether Oscar Pistorius’ girlfriend was pregnant when he shot her.


The paralympian’s name would once have denoted a page as perfect to advertise on for his former sponsor, but in the fast moving world of global news where advertising slots are bid for and bought in nanoseconds, things had changed considerably.


It is one of the most graphic examples of the increased importance brands are having to place on not only getting their messaging right online but also its positioning. And there are many examples of brands not taking control of where their adverts land, leading to red faces all round.


According to Andrew Goode, COO of Project Sunblock, the nub of the problem is that adverts are now increasingly bought through automation. In the days of humans buying inventory from one another the most severely embarrassing examples would have been very rare. However, with a push to get the biggest bang for the proverbial buck, real-time bidding (RTB) technology can provide some tempting cheap impressions that can lure the unwary in to some dark alleys they would normally avoid.


“You get what you pay for so people who use real-time bidding to get cut-price impressions can’t be too surprised if their name goes where they don’t want it to be seen,” he says.


“Over the past couple of weeks our clients have served a couple of billion impressions and we’ve blocked one million from going on sites that would have embarrassed them. We scan a page before we allow an advert to appear so we can check whether that particular content is where we want our clients to be seen. That can really help out with the grey areas of news stories or forums which can be fine until, say, a comment or a new direction for the story might mean an advertiser would not want to be seen there.”


Goode can cite several examples over just the past week of what happens if technology is not used to guard against automated systems spraying out adverts to the cheapest bidder. A well-known high street bank advertising against content of three people enjoying some very adult entertainment is probably the most embarrassing. However, several instances of telecoms and entertainment companies appearing on, and hence funding, illegal P2P download sites is at least as embarrassing and certainly far more counter-productive when the brands in question promote legal downloading.


Publishing question too


The problems brands face does actually have a positive spin to it, according to Darren Goldie, managing partner of digital at planning and buying agency, Havas Media. While appearing next to content a company does not want to be associated with has always, and will remain, a major consideration it is more of an issue now because of the success of automated buying platforms.


“There’s been a huge surge in programmatic buying, be that RTB or supply-side or demand-side

platforms,” he says. “So, with the rise in demand, it’s increasingly important to scan pages before you allow an advert to be served. It’s not as bad as the days when people would routinely buy blind. Instead, today, there’s a lot of attention paid to screening because planners are just one or two steps away from the publisher so there is a lot more visibility of where creative will be seen. We have a blacklist of sites as well as a whitelist but you can’t just rely on that because a perfectly good, legal site might have something on one day a client’s brand might not want to be seen against, so you need to be able to read content to make the final decision.”


According to Goldie, this is not just an issue for advertisers and their technology-wielding agencies but also publishers.


“I have to say I really think the publishers could be playing a more active role in vetting adverts to ensure brands won’t be disappointed or embarrassed,” he says. “After all, they know best what’s on the page and they want companies to advertise repeatedly and support them so it’s ultimately in their interest.”


The likelihood and extent to which this will happen is open to debate. Certainly Goode is adamant vetting solutions will need to be client-side rather than publisher-based because sites may be reluctant to turn away revenue.


“We’ve had contextual advertising services from the publisher’s side for years,” he says. “The question is, though, are brands with a reputation to protect going to rely on publishers to turn down advertising?”


Hence, he predicts the focus will have to remain on advertisers protecting themselves from embarrassment, particularly in those grey areas where a change in the direction of a piece of content or wider events means a name or keyword suddenly takes on a new meaning a client wants to avoid.

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