• Ad placement requires proper targeting, and should be in line with values and beliefs
  • With ad tech advances, advertisers must exercise caution to ensure their brand isn’t tarnished by unintended placement
  • Programmatic digital media requires discipline and vigilance by marketers and partners

Back in the day, banner ads on Web sites required a deal negotiated directly between an advertiser and a site publisher. The advertiser would agree to terms on volume, placement and cost, and the publisher site would display the ads according to those terms. Both parties knew what they were getting into and, hopefully, what they were getting out of it. Advertisers were able to control the content of their ads and, more often than not, the site content that their ads would be placed next to.

Today, with advances in ad tech, digital advertising has exploded – with deals being more one-to-many than one-to-one. Ad buys are done via ad networks and exchanges that reach across multiple Web sites. Through programmatic buying, some advertisers may not even know where their ads are being placed, because transactions are happening in real time. With these advances, advertisers need to exercise more caution with broad media buys to ensure their brand image isn’t tarnished by a rogue Web site within a network or exchange. At a minimum, B2B organizations must avoid Web sites containing adult material, illegal content (e.g. drugs, pirated movies) or other undesirable content.

But what about sites that are not illegal or generally inappropriate, but whose messages are not in line with an organization’s beliefs or values? One high-profile recent example of this situation in B2C is Kellogg Co., who pulled all of their ads from controversial political site Breitbart.com. This move caused a firestorm of opinions (and a hashtag to boot). Let’s use this example (minus the politics involved) to discuss the operational aspects of ad buys with organizational beliefs taken into consideration.

On one hand, the simplest solution for organizations that want to avoid ads being placed where they don’t want them is to go back to the “good old days” and buy media one-to-one from sites that line up with their beliefs and values and only serve ads there. This could be done the “old fashioned” way, or also through programmatic direct means that still take advantage of available technology. However, with digital playing a large role in most buyer journeys, this approach is fairly limiting (not to mention time-consuming and resource-intensive), to say the least.

On the other hand, while applying minimal restrictions reduces control over ensuring ad placement aligns with a company’s values, this approach does allow companies to take advantage of the scale digital advertising, and ad tech, are intended for. A solid start to balance the desire for scale with the need to protect brand image is to provide a restricted sites list to a media agency or partners. It should be noted, however, that with the number of Web sites with ad inventory that exist today, no organization could possibly provide a comprehensive restricted sites list.

So, what’s the solution? With no signs of buying trends slowing down, organizations have little choice but to hop on the programmatic train. But that doesn’t mean they should simply sit, relax and enjoy the ride. They need to stay vigilant and rely on reporting to determine where their traffic is coming from. They also should look for partners willing to provide transparency on where their ads are being placed. While being reactive isn’t as solid a defense as proactively restricting sites, with the right process and diligence put into place, organizations can maximize their reach and effectiveness while limiting their negative exposure.

A similar approach has been used in search advertising for a while. Within search engine monetization (SEM), organizations typically start with broad match to find volume, and then use negative keywords to restrict ad placement on obviously unrelated sites. Then, over time, SEM campaigns are narrowed using different keyword matching options (e.g. exact, phrase, modified broad match). While “wasting” search budget isn’t quite on the same level as “negative corporate exposure,” the approach can be viewed as the same.

As the ad tech landscape continues to advance, programmatic buying will gain steam and organizations must adapt or fall behind. If you don’t understand the ad tech landscape, I’d highly recommend getting up to speed as soon as possible (and we can help). If you’re already well entrenched in the digital advertising world, make sure you know more than just how your program is performing, but where it’s performing as well.