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The Big News: Is your banner ad running on a sex site?
Exclusive report by Jon Huntress, Contributing Editor


Has it happened to you yet? Have you received a call from an irate client informing you they just saw their banner on an X-rated Web site? Has your banner been proudly displayed over mounds of flesh, even though you make church furniture? Receiving a call at seven in the morning informing you that the phone number you just added to 50 pages of a major client's site actually connects their customers with a phone sex line is more effective than a double espresso for focusing the mind.

If it hasn't happened to you yet, it will. There are millions of registered domain names with trillions of places your ad can be served. Many of these sites are X-rated or contain material that would be detrimental to you if your ad was connected with it. Many non-sex sites have pages that contain sexual content or link to pages that do.

There are many unique factors about advertising on the Internet that mitigates exposure and publicity. It would be worse if your ad showed up in the wrong kind of magazine or print publication where everyone could see it as long as the magazine exists.

Such is not the case in the Internet world, as most online advertisers buy a percentage of the space available. Banner ads are moving targets, which probably minimizes the number of times they end up where they are not supposed to be or at least it limits the audience who will potentially see it. Ads are usually served to sites only a percentage of the time. This is hard for some traditional ad buyers to understand, as they often get upset when they go to a site where their advertising is supposed to be and it isn't there. When a problem is found, the ad can be pulled from the site, so it does not linger like the smell of yesterday's fish in the bottom of your kitchen wastebasket.

Ad serving technology is not specific enough to keep your banner off all the sites that might offend your clients and/or customers. If advertisers take a "run of network" option, their ads go wherever there is an opening and sometimes that could be just about anywhere.

Another way where your banner could appear in a place it should not is through the pirating of banners. Some sites engage in stealing banner ads to make themselves look more legitimate, all the while damaging your credibility. If they borrow the ad fragment, the ad meant for someone else will be served to them as well, although this is easily traceable to the server that they are using to pirate your ad from.

An easier way for outsiders to steal your ads is to just borrow the graphic itself and permanently place it on a page. It looks the same and some people may be impressed that a major company is advertising on the site, when the only thing on the site is their artwork. While violating copyright and trademark laws, current technology is unable to track just how much of this is going on. The term "Quality Assurance" really does not apply to the Internet yet. The medium is just too new.

One-to-one marketing is the promise and, indeed, the future of the Internet. Everyone wants their ads targeted to the people most apt to need their product or service. But with these numbers there is just no way to avoid an embarrassing situation every now and then. Whether your banner ends up in the wrong place because of a mistake, an automated ad server or by theft it still reflects poorly on those connected to the campaign because consumers have all been trained to associate advertising with the content that goes with it. While the majority of content on the Internet may force a change of this attitude in the future, we have to deal with the reality of today. So what can we do?

To begin with, assume that it will happen to you. It probably has already happened and you lucked out because nobody you care about has noticed it. The best course of action is to have a plan in place so that nobody is surprised or caught off-guard by the problem and the banner can be removed from the site and the customer mollified with apologies and assurances. Everyone who deals with your clients should know that a policy does exist and that there is a correct procedure to follow when an angry client calls. They also need to get the necessary information in order to fix the problem.

How often does this happen? Has anything like this happened to you yet? What problems have you had and how did you handle them? Did you put in place certain procedures for handling it in the future? This is the first of an ongoing series focusing on the pirating of ad banners, so we would like to hear about your experiences with this ever-growing problem.


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