A couple of years ago my colleague Jake Hird compiled a bunch of horrible online ad placements, which amused and appalled us in equal measure. Since then we’ve spotted a few more. Some of them are the stuff of nightmares.

I’m a big believer in targeting ads, and I hate the shotgun approach that the majority of advertisers seem to be content with. The lack of demand for smart targeting is one reason why average CPM rates for display have fallen through the floor, though publishers haven’t helped themselves. They should be in the data / engagement game but most are too busy trying to increase page impressions, often artificially (paginated slideshows being among the worst sins committed). 

As such, contextual targeting is the most popular – and easiest – form of ad targeting for publishers and advertisers. By matching ads to the content found on a page you can increase relevance and click through rates, though sometimes it doesn’t always work out that way, as we shall see.

Here are 13 examples of online ads that have left the brands in question with substantial portions of egg on their faces. Many of these appear to be contextually targeted, though some may just be unlucky. The question is why leave things to chance? Advertisers should take a little more care about where their ads appear.


What’s up, dog?

A tasty bargain, or is it?

Not so hot

‘We love logistics!’

Hooray for obesity

Join the force!

Evian babies


No, I do not fancy a drink

Cannot unsee

As bad as it gets…

Horrific fail

Going ballistic

No doubt there are many others out in the wild. Be careful out there, advertisers…