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Friday, May 4, 2012

More porn site ads stir blue-chip brands - 4th May 2012

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EXCLUSIVE: Another group of blue-chip advertisers including Commonwealth Bank, Hyundai, Qantas and Vodafone have been caught in the murky waters of online ad placement on adult sites just as the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is set to release guidelines around online brand safety.

Display ads targeting Australians for brands including Hyundai, World Vision, Qantas and ANZ have appeared alongside soft porn or adult content, while Commonwealth Bank advertising appeared on a site called Kick Ass Torrents, which could facilitate illegal downloading under copyright law in some countries.

However, one ad for Austar on a site called Plunder Girls has been deemed borderline appropriate by the pay TV operator despite appearing alongside several images of a naked woman. Because the ad was promoting Fox Sports to a male audience, Austar and its media agency, Foundation, determined the ‘inappropriate’ level had not been breached.

Austar group director for product, sales and marketing Nikki Warburton told AdNews: “There is a 10% buffer in what is appropriate and what is not, and this probably sits right on the border of okay.”

Meanwhile, a Vodafone ad placed on a site called Lovepanky alongside an article called ‘How to stare at a girl’s cleavage’ also raised the cloudy definition of ‘inappropriate’.

Vodafone said it was moving to ensure no further advertisements appeared on the site. However, a spokesperson for Adconion, the ad network behind the placement, said: “This site is neither inappropriate or immoral in any way.”

But Hyundai, Commonwealth Bank, ANZ, Qantas and World Vision have all blacklisted the sites in question after being informed by AdNews.

The moves follow an AdNews series last year which uncovered major brands appearing in potentially compromising online environments. The latest developments have again brought to light the role of media agencies, ad networks and demand-side platforms (DSPs) in ensuring ‘brand safety’ in the online sector, particularly when many companies are increasingly demanding cheap online inventory in high volumes through non-premium websites.

A Commonwealth Bank spokesperson said the display ad promoting same-day personal loans on the torrent site, which was placed through the Brandscreen DSP via media agency Ikon’s trading desk, came about because the site identity had been “spoofed”.

Ikon national chief executive Dan Johns told AdNews: “We have strict terms in place to protect against this and we do not tolerate any misrepresentation from any media partner.”

Hyundai’s media agency, Mediabrands-owned Initiative, also moved quickly when AdNews brought the placement of a Hyundai Elantra ad to its attention. Mediabrands commercial director Travis Johnson said: “Initiative was completely unaware that one of our online ads was on a site that could be regarded as inappropriate. The Hyundai ad which appeared [on The Chive website] was not placed with Hyundai’s knowledge and has since been removed.”

A credit card ad for ANZ promoting Qantas Frequent Flyer points also appeared on The Chive, alongside content about bouncing breasts. A Qantas spokesperson said neither the airline nor ANZ were aware of the placement and had removed the ads and blocked the site immediately.

A World Vision display ad promoting child sponsorship appeared above a link for ‘Hot girls with large chests’. A spokesperson said: “Despite our best efforts, we know that an ad can still appear on an unacceptable website and we will continue to monitor this situation closely.”

The issue becomes murky when defining ‘inappropriate’ content. Many of the ads were not placed on illegal or hardcore pornographic websites, but alongside ‘adult’ content.

Jonathan Despinidic, vice president of ad network industry body IASH, told AdNews the display ads in question may not be hardcore porn but are sexually suggestive, and would be classified by IASH as ‘adult’.

“For advertisers, this can be a big issue, but when you’re dealing with ad networks and DSPs, it’s hard to make it 100% safe,” Despinidic said. “When advertisers are buying hundreds of millions of impressions a month, often through third parties, it’s impossible to make it totally safe.”

IAB Australia chief executive Paul Fisher argued the issue is not a major one from a volume point of view, as a minority of ads slip through the cracks. But he also said, from a brand point of view, if an ad does appear on an inappropriate website, it can cause damage. IAB will roll out best-practice guidelines for ad safety in quarter three of 2012, partly in order to address this concern.

“But it comes down to how you define ‘inappropriate’, because it’s up to the advertiser to decide what is an acceptable environment,” Fisher said. (AdNews)

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