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The brand exodus from Facebook and other social media sites is gathering pace, after companies such as Vodafone and First Direct were revealed to have been paying to advertise on the likes of the BNP’s Facebook page.

Has the world gone mad? Everybody, it seems, is missing the point, which is this: these advertisers simply aren’t paying enough. This is what you get for doing things on the cheap, and for not targeting your ads properly.

It is time for a rethink among media buyers...

A Panorama programme sparked off the media interest in this area. I recently boycotted Panorama after watching a horrendously one-sided episode dedicated to proving how wifi is bad for people, with the aim of forcing the government to reverse the roll-out of wireless into schools. That particular episode marked a real low for the BBC’s journalistic standards. And it was based on a smorgasbord of bad science and comment provided by lobbyists posing as experts. So what of the Panorama show devoted to dodgy online advertising? Was it any better?

Well, it apparently revealed that some ad networks were allowing big-brand ads to appear on sites such as ‘Pure Street Fights’. Ouch! British Telecom, John Lewis, Carphone Warehouse and Orange were all involved. And these brands knew nothing of it. But why? And how?

  • Why?
    The advertisers didn’t target their ads.
  • How?
    The advertisers used 'rogue' online ad networks, rather than direct relationships.
  • Why?
    Because it is cheaper and easier to buy across sites in this way.
  • How?
    Because you don’t have very much control!

Aha! Now, the main three reasons for using online ad networks are reach, coordination, and – perhaps the most important and obvious of all – cost. You can avoid a publisher’s rate card by hooking up with a big ad network with that same publisher in its network of sites. You can expect to cede a little – or a lot – of control in the process, but it will be much cheaper than buying direct.

Ad networks are essentially networks of websites (owned by third party publishers). These websites are categorised, eg ‘entertainment’ / ‘sport’. Advertisers can often target ads, for example by placing their ads ‘by category’. Or, they can buy ads 'blindly' across the entire network. The less visibility and targeting, and the cheaper the ads become. Which gives you lots of bang for your buck. It can be the wrong kind of bang...

There are many excellent online advertising networks, operated not by sharks but by industry people with years of experience. However, in the rush to be the biggest and the best, some networks have overstepped the mark in accepting sites onto their network that aren’t appropriate. Lessons will have been learnt. The sector should also see a lot of consolidation over the next few years, so networks need to keep their noses clean.

But, here's a word to the wise: The Real Culprits Aren’t The Online Ad Networks, because the people ultimately responsible are the people buying the advertising.

If 'brand' is so important to your company, why would you use online ad networks at all? Best practice advice certainly wouldn’t be ‘buy blindly across the network’, if brand matters.

The internet is still a cheap place to buy brand advertising, and it is even cheaper still if you cut corners by ignoring the basic rules of advertising. So let's take the time out to remember what is surely the first 'basic' rule: Target Your Ads Appropriately. Otherwise what's the point?

Chris Lake

Published 6 August, 2007 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

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