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 ( 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

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