Robert McMillan of IDG News Service wrote an interesting article last week about the support of “deceptive” advertising on Yahoo Right Media’s Direct Media Exchange.

As McMillan describes:

“Yahoo Right Media’s Direct Media Exchange gives publishers the option of running or blocking several different types of ads, based on their ‘deceptiveness.'”

“These ads include graphical advertisements that are designed to look like fake error or download messages or look like genuine Windows dialog boxes. Also included are ads that have phony “close window” buttons or pull-down menus that actually take the user to a Web site instead of closing the window or producing a pull-down menu.

“Direct Media Exchange also categorizes deceptive ads by language, letting publishers filter out ‘deceptive or questionably realistic offers,’ or ‘free’ offers that do not disclose what a consumer might have to do to qualify for this free offer, according to the company’s Web site.”

According to McMillan, IDG News Service found that approximately 18% of Right Media’s ad inventory, at times, is comprised of “free with no disclosure” ads. That’s obviously quite a substantial amount.

So why would Right Media want to display ads that are not only annoying to most consumers but that may also meet the legal definition of “deceptive“?

As McMillan points out, a recent study found that consumers are easily fooled by these ads.

Two-thirds of the participants in the study conducted at North Carolina State University were unable to distinguish between fake Windows error message ads. Most clicked on the ads in an attempt to clear the message.

This is obviously appealing to all parties – Right Media, publishers and advertisers all like serving “effective” ads (if the effectiveness is associated with clickthru ratios).

Forget the fact that these ads are only “effective” because they’re deceptive. If they make dollars, they make sense. Right?

In many cases, yes. In this case, no.

In my opinion, publishers should avoid these ads like the plague.

There’s been a lot of talk over the past several years about advertisers’ concern that their brands will be associated with unsavory user-generated content. The rationale behind these concerns is simple – if their brands are displayed alongside content that they would otherwise not want to be associated with, the brand loses, regardless of effectiveness.

Publishers should take the same approach when deciding what ads they run.

If you run an online property that displays “deceptive” or “sleazy” ads, it reflects on you.

Your most valuable asset – your visitors – may be lured to websites that are really of no use to them and, in the worst case scenario, may be scammed in some way by those websites.

Additionally, other advertisers (and prospective advertisers) are sent a less-than-impressive message about your standards and the value you perceive in your property.

The net effect is obvious – these ads decrease the value of your property in the eyes of consumers and other advertisers.

Therefore, you shouldn’t sell yourself short by throwing standards out the window when choosing which ads you’re willing to display.

Even if you’re running a property that isn’t (yet) “premium” in the eyes of advertisers and are eager to make money wherever you can, I think that a decision to show deceptive and sleazy ads is being akin to being penny wise and pound foolish. 

As they say, you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

You might make a little bit more money in the short-term showing “deceptive” and “sleazy” ads, but the cost of turning off consumers and prospective advertisers isn’t worth it, especially in a time when economic forces are forcing many advertisers to flee to quality.

At the end of the day, I’d argue that your property is as good as its advertisers and that an ad network is as good as the advertisements it encourages its publishers to display.

By that measure, properties that display these ads and the ad networks that place them in inventory aren’t all that great.