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The problems with network buying exposed by Panorama last night have been around for as long as people have been buying adverts.

However, advertisers can still benefit from blind buying thanks to IASH and improved third party ad serving.

It was at yet another free drinks party 10 years ago that I found myself pinned to a wall by a journalist for Marketing magazine, who was investigating rumours of click fraud in the online display advertising market.

I was sales manager of one of the largest ad networks at the time and had noticed some fairly strange URLs appearing in the referrer logs for some of the campaigns we were running.

I found that a significant number of clicks from a major portal were coming from pages that had lots of banners but no content - but worse still, all the traffic coming from User Generated Content (UGC) sites was being generated by highly inappropriate content.

I witnessed Disney banners on a soft porn site and Microsoft inadvertently advertising on a site offering free downloads of Windows NT.

Ten years on and Panorama has finally brought the need for advertisers to monitor banner ad placement to the forefront of the online media agenda.

Last night’s Panorama found banners for companies like eBay and easyJet on a video site where children post footage of fights, bullying and happy slapping.

The dangers of buying blind on the internet, and particularly buying advertising on UGC sites, were made all too apparent by the programme.

However, the fragmented nature of online audiences makes buying packages of advertising that include a large number of sites a necessity.

While advertisers might like to know where their ads will be placed, this would mean paying much higher prices as networks cannot predict what third party inventory will be available to them in the future.

So if advertisers want affordable niche targeting, blind buying is the only way to achieve this.

What is needed are some guarantees about the types of site that will be included in a package and some post campaign certification to ensure that networks have kept to their word.

One part of this equation is being answered by the online advertising networks trade body, IASH, which has promised to expel any member found to be placing ads onto inappropriate sites.

Only buying IASH approved inventory will provide a partial solution, but those advertisers that really are concerned about where their banners appear should take a pro-active approach and use an ad server that can report referrers on blind networks.

Monitoring referrers is not commonplace for agency ad servers and some of the networks have become complacent as a result.

Results using my own company’s new agency ad server product (www.positive-feedback.co.uk) have shown that many networks are selling finance packages consisting of 99% social networking sites mixed in with 1% specialist finance sites.

I’m sure blind packages are here to stay and offer a better deal for direct response advertisers.

Advertisers just need to ensure that banners are placed responsibly by only buying from reputable networks and choosing a third party ad server that can provide a comprehensive list of sites that their banners have been served onto.

Now we just need Panorama to do a feature on the over-inflation of website audience figures - although I think we might have to wait a lot more than 10 years!

Paul Cook is the CEO of Positive Feedback .

Paul Cook

Published 31 July, 2007 by Paul Cook

Paul Cook, the founder of RedEye and TagMan, is a contributor to Econsultancy.  

28 more posts from this author

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Robert Proctor

“So if advertisers want affordable niche targeting, blind buying is the only way to achieve this. What is needed are some guarantees about the types of site that will be included in a package.”
The problem with “blind buying” on traditional ad networks is that you are buying remnant inventory – terrific for direct response but lacking the controls required for brand advertising. If advertisers want millions of impressions without being on any properties that might embarrass them or damage their brands while paying a minimal amount of CPM, they may find publishers interested in their ad, but it will not be efficient. Working with branded vertical ad networks, such as those powered by Adify (www.adify.com) and run by trusted brands such as the Guardian, is another way to get effective niche targeting. Because The Guardian is using Adify for this network, advertisers can pre-select the publishers to be included in their campaign. And Publishers can approve advertisers as well.
“While advertisers might like to know where their ads will be placed, this would mean paying much higher prices as networks cannot predict what third party inventory will be available to them in the future.”
Again, not necessarily true. Publishers can not only predict but actively choose which sites they choose to include and offer to their advertisers. The issue about pricing is the difference between remnant inventory (what is on the blind networks) and premium inventory (on the branded sites and branded vertical networks).
For example, the Guardian who will launch a number of vertical ad networks in key content areas such as Travel and Environment. The network will be composed of small to medium sized publishers who offer high quality content in valuable areas, content which will then be aggregated to build scalable and targetable advertising and sponsorship opportunities for advertisers. Unlike large ad networks that aggregate and sell remnant publisher inventory, Adify enables The Guardian to focus on packaging high-value brand advertising programs.

Overall however, the statement that “brands (need) to (better) monitor placements” is absolutely correct. With global partners, such as Time Warner, The Washington Post Company, Reed Business Information, NBC Universal, MediaNews Group, RP Online, and Comcast Corporation, already doing exactly this, Adify represents an ideal mechanism for ensuring that advertiser presence is highly targeted and remains only on those sites which are appropriate and of benefit to the advertiser.

Rob Proctor, Head of Business Development, Adify Europe

over 9 years ago

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