Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman has produced some of the most interesting academic research on internet advertising, especially on the subjects of spyware, affiliate marketing fraud and PPC advertising.

But he's not stopping at research. Yesterday, he published a post titled "Towards a Bill of Rights for Online Advertisers". In it, he suggests "five specific rights advertisers should demand as they buy online placements".

They are:

  1. An advertiser’s right to know where its ads are shown.
  2. An advertiser’s right to meaningful, itemized billing.
  3. An advertiser’s right to use its data as it sees fit.
  4. An advertiser’s right to enjoy the fruits of its advertising campaigns.
  5. An advertiser’s right to resolve disputes fairly and transparently.

The rationales for each are, for the most part, pretty logical. On the right to know where ads are shown, Edelman writes:

It is nonsense to pay for ad space without knowing where an ad will appear; sites vary too much in user quality and context.  Even for “blind buys,” advertisers need enough information to determine whether a given site qualifies to show an ad.  Anything less undermines accountability—inviting fraudulent sites that devour advertisers’ budgets.

On an advertiser's write to use data as it sees fit, Edelman notes that the terms for Google's AdWords API forbids advertisers from using the API to export their AdWords campaign data to another ad platform. In an email to his mailing list, Edelman states:

In my view, these restrictions are outrageous. Google has no proper basis limiting how advertisers use, copy, or store ads, keywords, and bids that advertisers themselves designed, wrote, and chose.

Edelman believes that these types of restrictions hinder competition in the marketplace. According to his analysis, a full 60% of advertisers using PPC use Google alone so the argument that Google's AdWords API terms are anticompetitive does carry some weight.

The most interesting, and perhaps controversial, item in Edelman's draft Bill of Rights is the notion that advertisers should have the right to "enjoy the fruits" of their campaigns. Edelman explains:

Incidental to an advertiser’s online ad purchases, various data is generated about users and their interests. “This user just clicked an ad that promoted automobiles,” an ad network might notice. “Maybe we should show the user ads from other car companies too.” From the ad network’s perspective, that’s found money, but it risks tainting the value the ad network delivers to the advertiser who bought the first click in the sequence. The harm is particularly acute when the first advertiser spent big money—perhaps buying thousands of CPM impressions—to find the rare user interested in an obscure subject.

His argument: the data collected from campaigns should essentially belong to the advertiser, not ad networks. Goodbye behavioral targeting.

While I'm not sure I agree with this, I think the part about "rights advertisers should demand as they buy online placements" is important. If advertisers don't look out for their own interests, nobody else will. While smaller advertisers reasonably have little to no ability (individually at least) to get major companies like Google to listen to them, larger advertisers do have some clout.

Unfortunately, many of the advertisers that complain about less-than-satisfactory service and media haven't given ad companies much reason to take their complaints seriously. It's very unlikely that the 'rights' Edelman suggests will ever be rights in the sense that they're guaranteed by law, but by standing up for what they believe is just and voting with their wallets, advertisers may still be able to obtain some of them.

Patricio Robles

Published 22 September, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (3)



I am totally agree with you.Really a nice inforamtive post.Thanks a lot for sharing this post with us.

almost 9 years ago



Interesting, although the professor is on the wrong side of the aisle. The surfers deserve a bill of rights--some advertisers deserve less than total banishment.

However, as one who surfs and advertises, points 1 through 4 are excellent and should be part of every advertising agreement (not part of a rights program--this reeks of government involvement, a popular academic solution).

5 is rather general. If the disputes are regarding numbers of views and PPC, then other clarifications should be part of the terms (which is really what the author is dealing with, contract terms). For example, with views, the landing part of site is rarely the whole page. Hence an ad placed below visible window of the landing page is almost as good not seen at all; that "view" should be a courtesy of some sort, unless a scroll down can be verified. As for clicks, any click that results in less than a 3 or 4 second perusal is functionally worthless and should be charged nominally (3 or 4 cents, for example); it certainly is not a true viewing in any sense and hence not worth the total bid.

As long there is no real competition, advertisers and surfers will remain at a disadvantage. That is the landscape that is materializing as you read. The ultimate power is in the dollar. Withdraw from the leader and dollars will wane. The leader will adapt (this why the also rans are also rans; inability to see, foresee, innovate and adapt).

In the googlized world the page placed ad will continue to be more and more marginalized. As frustrated marketing firms get more aggressive, software ad blockers will get better (thank God). Somewhere there has to be happy medium. Currently, that balance remains beyond the horizon.

Just because I may purchase postcards from vistaprint does not mean I give a rip about any other postcard vendor, or a related service. Therein is a substantial weakness in Googleworld. That does and will cost advertisers dearly. This reality remains unaddressed and rarely if ever is discussed. Looking for a new nexus between surfer and desired retail information is needed.

Rank is god; but when I am looking for a particular item/service/vendor, I refine my search repeatedly until I get what I am looking for (very unlikely it ranks on page one and what is on page one rarely, barely matters). On occasion, only after repeated failed searches, do results or right column ads become meaningful. Frankly, word association/match is not that great even with King Googlee [sic].

Article get three thumbs-up and a request for further development.

almost 9 years ago


AdWords API Software

Yes - that "Bill of Rights" has my vote!

almost 9 years ago

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