Do you know where your ads ran last night?

by Kirsten McMullen, Chief Privacy Officer blacklist, inventory, "programmatic advertising"
Do you know where your ads ran last night?

The past week has been filled with news about some of the less savory side effects of programmatic advertising, embodied most acutely by advertisers pulling ads from Google and YouTube after discovering they were inadvertently appearing next to, and therefore subsidizing, extremist content. This boycott spread from the U.K. to the U.S. as advertisers including AT&T, Verizon and Johnson & Johnson expressed concerns. Most advertisers, of course, had no idea their ads were even running on such content. Such is the nature of digital advertising technology today. This is poorly understood by consumers, and even not well understood by some brand marketers, so journalists have stepped in with a slew of articles explaining how programmatic advertising works. Google was quick to apologize and announce changes to address the situation.  But as The Washington Post reports, the problem is not exclusive to Google. 

The digital advertising ecosystem has sped up everything and created efficiencies that benefit both publishers and advertisers. But the benefits are best reaped when you go large – reaching customers on those “long tail” locations that are less well known. Programmatic advertising inherently values “eyeballs” aka impressions over page content.  The theory is that brands want to reach the right audience, no matter what apps those consumers are using or what content they are viewing.  And that’s true – to a degree. But virtually no brand wants to be associated with offensive, pornographic, or inflammatory subject matter. 4INFO long ago implemented strong controls to prevent this from occurring, while still maximizing the benefits of automation.

  1. We have had formal content policies around both the inventory we accept (the sites and apps where we place ads), as well as for the types of advertising we accept since inception of our display advertising products. These policies are regularly reviewed and updated, and are shared with our exchange partners and enforced both contractually and through programmatic blacklist controls. But we go one step further, with a human review of our top ad placements at least annually, and spot-checking of individual campaign placements on an ongoing basis.
  2. We play a mean game of Whack-A-Mole. We are constantly reviewing the inventory we receive through our exchange partners, and actively blocking those placements that do not meet our standards for content and transparency.  New sites and apps become available constantly, and they’re mostly good. We whack the ones that violate our standards.
  3. 4INFO does not engage in, as Sir Martin Sorrell called “marking its own homework.”  We support third party tracking tags, including those for viewability and fraud detection. Most importantly, we work exclusively with independent third party companies to measure the sales lift impact of our campaigns.

There’s  a lot of work to be done to optimize the digital advertising industry’s ecosystem, but in the meantime we are committed to preventing our customers’ ads from appearing in the wrong places and assuring that advertisers are getting the value they expect for their digital ad dollars.