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...

Chris Lake

Published 11 May, 2012 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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Comments (8)

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Kari Rippetoe

Gotta love contextual ad placements.

over 6 years ago

Rob Smith

Rob Smith, Managing Director at Blueleaf

The body parts / UPS one is my 'favourite' if you can call it that. Computers aren't too smart yet!

over 6 years ago


Ian Lockwood, Director at Boom Online Marketing

In case anybody is wondering about the first one with Michael Vick, he was arrested for dogfighting.

over 6 years ago


Ian Saunders

There are literally thousands of such examples, ranging from the innocent through to the really serious with brand damaging implications for the advertiser. It is wrong to simply associate these with contextual advertising as often Run of Network or Run of Site campaigns can fall foul of this issue. Semantic advertising solutions such as our own can put the advertiser in control of the environment where they wish to advertise and conversely, those where they would not. I am pleased that an increasing number of advertisers and agencies are adopting this protection but as these examples show, there are still a number of advertisers playing Russian Roulette with their brand.

over 6 years ago


Malcolm Gibb

Haha these are brilliant! Makes me fear my own contextual targeting. Burn Baby Burn made me laugh the most although it shouldn't have!

over 6 years ago



Brilliant, need this to cheer up a Monday afternoon... Agreed @RobSmith The UPS placement is hilarious!

over 6 years ago


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over 6 years ago



so - who's up for dinner at the Olive Garden?

over 6 years ago

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