When Banner Ads Attack

Are publishers, brands safe from mismatched placements?

Players in the online ad industry do their best to protect clients from embarrassing media placements. But sometimes, their best is not enough. No brand or publisher is totally safe from banner bloopers.

Take a recent incident involving ads for Honda’s CR-V model. Banners promoting the car popped up next to an Automobile Magazine blog post about a CR-V prototype allegedly crashing into another car. “Got to love the ad placements,” tweeted Jean Aw, the founder of design blog Notcot (who also claims to be the auto accident’s victim). Another recent blunder: an Alaska tourism ad featuring a grizzly bear, which wound up peering out over the top of an Anchorage Daily News headline about a life-threatening grizzly attack on a group of teens.

Such clumsy pairings online, apparently the result of automated targeting, are tough to avoid in today’s scattered marketplace. It’s even worse, though, on newer terrain like mobile. Pampers, for example, recently saw one of its banners reading “Hello Baby” placed on an iPhone app titled 300+ Sex Positions. “When you have a very emerging platform, it’s really hard to set standards…It’s a bit of the Wild West,” says Gina Kim, senior director for industry initiatives at the Interactive Advertising Bureau. The IAB has worked to regulate the quality of ad networks and exchanges that place display ads on the Web and plans to extend similar standards to mobile.

Fixing these cock-ups, though, may erase their unintended benefit. Screwups garner way more attention than their appropriate banner brethren.