Smart companies are always worried about where their ads land. There are high-profile examples of those paired with terrorism and white supremacy. They didn't know where their ads ran. And now there's a new example: Liquid Plumr.
The Clorox-owned drain cleaner brand makes a pretty good product (having had to make use of it at times). But when you're thinking of unclogging vessels, you probably don't want to make an association with people dying, particularly when the person in question is someone well-known like Luke Perry.
When the news broke, articles were out everywhere. And with those reports were ads, because that's generally how media makes money. Here's a screen shot a friend I know from theater and art sent over, shocked that it would appear.
Drain cleaner? Strokes? Bad mix. It's not even worth making tasteless jokes. Certainly the company didn't find it funny when I asked about it. Here's the statement I got after some back and forth as they tried to figure out what happened:
The Clorox Company and our family of brands pride ourselves on being responsible advertisers and set strict criteria around where our ads are placed to ensure that the media environment and corresponding content reflect our standards. But in this digital age, it can be difficult to track where our ads may appear, because as you mentioned our ads are targeted to people via programmatic media buying, which means we don't buy ads on specific locations like websites; we try to reach our target audience wherever they are online. We set very specific standards or filters with our vendors and publishers to block our ads from appearing in inappropriate contexts. The filters should have prevented our ads from appearing here. We are working to get to the bottom of the issue and prevent it from happening again. We appreciate you letting us know about this particularly distasteful ad placement.
I don't normally run a statement that long, instead picking out the relevant pieces, but it gets to the heart of a big problem in digital advertising. It's come to a point where a company haven't has no idea what is going on. There are multiple complicated layers and interactions, with virtually uncountable places ads can appear, different agencies that take overall requirements and translate them into targeting consumers, data companies processing bewildering amounts of information to channel the ads to the "right" places, and so on.
The process has become a cesspool. There are companies like Facebook that burn people's trust right and left to make an extra dollar--and many businesses turn around and burn the advertisers as well. The latest estimate I've seen is that ad fraud has cost $51 million. A day. Every single day in 2018, or a total of $19 billion, whether it's placing ads like the Liquid Plumbr ones where they'd never want to be featured is someone could, or would, tell them what was happening--or running video the minute you hit the page, even though you don't want to watch it and click multiple times to stop it even though you might not see where it is. The whole point is to create fake use and profit off the advertising revenues that demand someone see the ads.
If you're an entrepreneur and using digital ads as part of your strategy, it's time to recognize that, statistically speaking, you're being played. Someone, somewhere is probably stealing your money, angering your customers, and making you look bad.
The only way this ends is when consumers and companies make enough of a stink--walk off to do something else entirely--that members of the ad industry can no longer get away with sadly shaking their heads and wishing, oh, if only it were possible, that people would be honest.
You have to make them honest. Directly place ads in print. Directly place them with online sites or podcasts or what have you. Stop assuming that you must deal with the ad networks they way they'd like. Act like your customers would if you did something wrong and bring them up short. If enough of that happens, so will change. And if it doesn't, all the insidious players who condone either outright fraud or "benign" neglect will keep doing what brings the cash in.