Want to know why many big brand advertisers are still seriously wary of the Internet? Just check out Dumage.com.
On Friday, a post called “Hot Girls in Demotivational Posters” served as a showcase for nearly everything that plagues online advertising. For one, there were between 11 and 13 different ads appearing on the page at once, mostly for blue-chip brands ranging from Marriott to JetBlue to Progressive to Lacoste.
The ridiculous clutter is one thing. The content is another. Dumage features lots of racy photos with captions such as “Gigantic Tits, God’s Apology to Fat Girls” and “Lesbians. All Girls Have It in Them. For Some It Comes Naturally. Others Need Alcohol.” It’s possible that these brands are fine with this sort of thing (one person’s offensive content is another’s favorite). Possible, but unlikely.
Other brands spotted on Dumage’s Hot Girls post were Verizon and Busch Gardens—running vertical banners directly adjacent to one another. Same for Bing and Budget (it's doubtful these brands paid to be right on top of one another). In the case of the Verizon banner, it carried an AdChoices icon—one of the online ad industry’s many PR attempts aimed at proving it takes privacy seriously. Though in this case, the AdChoices icon inadvertently provided some eye-opening insight into this unfortunate placement. The ads were delivered by ValueClick, and their delivery was tracked by none other than DoubleVerify, one of the leaders in the ad verification space. Companies like DoubleVerify exist solely to prevent this sort of thing.
When contacted about Dumage, DoubleVerify CEO Oren Netzer said that some advertisers only use DoubleVerify’s technology for reporting, not actually blocking questionable ad placements. Regardless, advertisers need to be diligent about protecting their brands from sites they aren’t OK with, despite using technology designed to prohibit undesirable adjacencies.
“The reality for real-time bidding is that there are many sites with low-quality content, high views and no direct sales force,” Netzer said. “It is a challenge for advertisers which use real-time bidding technology to ensure brand safety without integrations with verification data. This underscores the importance of verifying campaigns continuously. Advertisers need to proactively approach targeting to brand-safe content because if they already know what content they don't want to be on, they should be able to target content that they know will be good for their brand."
It’s not just ValueClick and DoubleVerify that are listed as working with Dumage. Several other banner ads included revealing AdChoices icons. Hertz’s banner was apparently delivered by Sojern. Clearspring Technologies was also listed as serving ads to the site. A JetBlue ad was targeted to users via the demand side platform Turn Inc., while an Amazon ad arrived via 888Media.
However, as one source noted, it's possible that the information provided within AdChoices icons are not up to date, or even generic. But there are other ways of getting at which companies are involved in serving particular ads on a page. In fact, via Google’s Chrome browser, which also provides insight into what third parties have placed tags or ad pixels on a particular site, it's hard to find a company from the online ad ecosystem that doesn’t somehow work with Dumage. Among the companies Chrome identified are Ligit, PubMatic, DoubleClick, Technorati, BlueLithium, Advertising.com, Amazon and Admeld.
Schlockly placement of display ads is one thing. Video is often touted as the Internet's true savior when it comes to brand advertising. And you probably won’t be surprised that at one point Dumage served a below-the-fold autoplay ad for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes.
Yet a pair of video ads on Dumage aroused far more alarming questions. Several ads were found on Dumage.com delivered by Viewable Media, which is a division of the Web video analytics firm Visible Measures, while several others were served by a European company called ebuzzing.com. Among the brands spotted were Nike, Jaguar, TJ Maxx and Microsoft (Visible Measures), as well as Lacoste for eBuzzing.
Ads ending up in the wrong place via a video ad network? It happens. Here’s the problem: Both Visible Measures and ebuzzing bill themselves as “social video” companies. Their presence on a site like Dumage could call into question the entire social video category, which has been red-hot to date.
That’s because social video companies claim to be fundamentally different than video ad networks in that they “seed” video ads across the Web, delivering them only to users that want to see them. Firms like Sharethrough and Unruly Media talk about distributing ads via editorial relationships with bloggers and inciting users to share and spread advertisers' videos via social media.
So what are these companies doing on Dumage? Well, in the case of ebuzzing’s Lacoste campaign, Dumage may actually be OK. According to Jeremy Arditi, eBuzzing’s vp of business development, his company actually doesn’t claim that all of its traffic comes from “social video” distribution; it delivers some video ads to long-tail sites just like any other network to ensure ad deliveries.
Plus, to prevent problems, eBuzzing employs a verification firm Adloox, which scans the pages where eBuzzing’s clients appear. Thus, it’s possible that Dumage was deemed safe. “Brand safety is something we take very seriously,” said Arditi.
The case of Visible Measures is more curious. That company, which built its business as a video analytics provider, has only been in the social video space for about a year. According to CEO Brian Shin, he’s not sure how the company’s ads ended up on Dumage, since the ads did not contain Visible Measure’s unique ad serving code.
Shin blamed an unnamed partner for making an error. “This looks like it was some kind of rogue placement,” he said. “Somebody did something not kosher.”
However, per Shin, that sort of thing is bound to happen with social video campaigns since they are designed to encourage users to share a brand’s ads. “We’ve never had this happen before. But this is something that the industry will struggle with," he said.
A rep from Dumage named Bojan denied any knowledge of Visible Measures. He was less than helpful in tracking down which companies work with Dumage. "You will have to tell us exact position of ad on site if you want us to give you more information," wrote Bojan in an email.
However, Adweek has learned of other questionable practices employed by Visible Measures. For example, a campaign executed for Nike within the Facebook game Superhero City offered players more energy in exchange for watching a Nike ad.
That sort of incentivized video view is becoming increasingly more common. But in this instance, to watch the Nike ad, users were first redirected from the game to a sports blog, Everyjoe.com. There, they could receive an energy boost for viewing the video ad.
Was Visible Measures trying to make it look like it was delivering its advertiser video views within a more legitimate editorial environment, rather than within and incentivized gaming environment? Shin says the company never claims to deliver video views within editorial, as other companies in the sector do.
Again, Shin blamed a third party. “This is clearly not our highest quality ad approach," he said. "I don’t know why this happened this way. I don’t particularly enjoy this technique. I will investigate this.”