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Walgreens Runs Blowout Video Ad Effort—Aimed at Bots?

Heavy autoplay presence on slew of Alphabird ghost sites

Just before Memorial Day Weekend, Walgreens started running a blowout Web video ad campaign for its Way to Well initiative. The ads, featuring Alison Sweeney (Sammy from Days of Our Lives), had already made their debut on YouTube in April. But this time around, Walgreens was running lots of autoplay video spots all over a collection of Alphabird sites, many of the same sites that have been cited as being rife with artificial bot traffic and lackluster content.

As it turns out, Alphabird, the company behind many of the ghost sites identified by Adweek in a March article titled Meet the Most Suspect Publishers on the Web, has never stopped selling ads. And while many digital ad vendors and exchanges shut down Alphabird's sites, the supply-side platform company The Rubicon Project has been housing plenty of Alphabird inventory, at least until this week, when the company may or may not have shut the supply down. Rubicon is also selling inventory from Mevio, another site identified as being loaded with bot traffic.

Here are several of the sites Walgreens was spotted pushing its wellness campaign on (and which other blue-chip advertisers have been appearing):

DrivingAroundthetrack.com

-On Thursday, the Walgreens video was down, but the site was carrying three JetBlue banners along with an Xbox display ad, along with three other below-the-fold banners.

Contemporarymother.com

-Walgreens is still live; an autoplay spot appeared on Thursday prior to 90 Second Reviews, which featured a review of the movie sites RottenTomatoes.com and DarkHorizons.com. One of the top articles was a long excerpt from an article on YahooShine. Verizon had an autoplay ad.

USNewsstories.com

-The last article on this site is dated March 19 (the day of Adweek's original story); it's focused on the assault weapon's ban debate. Regardless of the "gone fishin" feel of the site, there were no less than five ads from the Ad Council warning against drunk driving.

Sportsnewsstories.com

-An autoplay spot for SC Johnson appeared on Thursday, despite the fact that the last article on the site ran on March 19 focused on the World Baseball Classic.

Foreverevergame.com

-There's an article featuring Serena Williams, pulled from the Miami Herald

Wellentertainment.com

-Six more Ad Council banners

AwesomeAbroad.com

-Four banners, including JetBlue and Xbox.

Executives from Alphabird and Walgreens were unavailable for comment. Here's Rubicon's statement:

"Rubicon Project places great importance on the users of our REVV Platform. In this regard, we seek to continually analyze and review the performance and behavior of traffic on our platform, including all non-human activity, to ensure that best practices are maintained. As a result of our efforts in this regard, we recently terminated our relationship with customers that represent an insignificant part of our ongoing business operations. We believe that as a result of our consistent efforts in this regard, the REVV Platform represents the most trusted and transparent environment for buyers and sellers of digital ad inventory to transact their business with one another.”

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