Exposing The Problem With Ad Networks Clients Never See

I don't own a coffee maker, and I drink too much coffee.  Not surprisingly, I have bonded with the people who work at the Dunkin' Donuts around the block from my apartment.  Over the years, our greetings have grown warmer and will linger longer when no other customers are in line.  My favorite employee is Hanany, an Egyptian man in his sixties who reminds me fondly of my grandfather.  When Hanany hands me my coffee, we smile and then bump with our free hands.

This group of employees has been together for a while now, and they are very good at what they are paid to do: take orders, serve orders and efficiently collect revenue to keep the line moving.  But that doesn't mean there are never any lines.  So when I walked in this morning and the line was unusually backed up to the door, I took notice of how the buyers in the line -- rather than the folks behind the counter -- contributed to the problem.    

I watched as an employee tried valiantly to gain the attention of a customer to get her order started before arriving at the cash register, but was ignored because the customer was on her cell phone.  Then I watched this same customer end her call, order two complex coffees, and spend an agonizing 39 seconds deciding what donuts to order.  She had been in line for approximately eight minutes facing the menu above the actual products for sale -- and yet when she got to the register, she didn't know what she wanted to order?  Once her order was shared, she was told how much it would cost -- and that's when she began to search frantically for her wallet, as if she were surprised this transaction she'd stood in line to make, would require money.



Whenever there is a problem with a buying experience, we always assume the folks behind the counter doing the selling are causing it.  This morning's experience waiting in line made it clear that, in some cases, buyers are more to blame when a purchase experience sours.

My professional issues with how ad networks sell impressions are many and valid.  My core issue however, is the lack of transparency in which they sell.  Transparency is not telling clients where their ads can run -- it's showing clients where their ads did run. 

So when my research uncovered ad messages from ABC Television, Allstate Insurance, Ally Bank, Bayer, Boost Mobile, Ford Motors, Garnier, Principal Financial Group, Slim Jim, and Toyota as pre-rolls and/or overlays to sexually explicit video content on, I wondered: Is this a problem? And if so, was it caused by the video ad network's sales force that sold these impressions -- or the buyers who bought them?

Or am I completely wrong about this?  Maybe the sellers who sold these impressions and the buyers who bought them, met with the clients who paid for them and said, "Oh yeah, one more thing: as part of this incredibly efficient buy, your ads will run next to content you would never want to see your ads running next to."

And the clients all responded, "Sure, not a problem."

Author's Note: This is my last column of the year. I am no expert -- just a guy with experience in this business sharing it willingly.  I have been writing this column since it started in 2005.  I am happy to keep writing in 2011, but in the spirit of social media, you need to weigh in. Please comment below with a "YES" if you prefer I remain in this OPI lineup, or simply write "NO" if you would be interested in hearing a new voice.  Either way you vote, I want to thank you for your time and attention these past five years.

44 comments about "Exposing The Problem With Ad Networks Clients Never See ".
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  1. Ken Nicholas from VideoAmp, December 16, 2010 at 2:50 p.m.

    Yes, YES...and YES!

  2. Bruce Annan from Bruce Annan Consulting, December 16, 2010 at 2:54 p.m.

    Yes. Enjoy your columns. Thanks.

  3. Tom Collins from Windsor Media Enterprises, Inc., December 16, 2010 at 2:59 p.m.


  4. Chris Hanburger from aiMatch, December 16, 2010 at 3:01 p.m.

    yes and have a great Holiday!

  5. Nancy Cardenas from New York American Mktg. Assoc., December 16, 2010 at 3:10 p.m.

    Yes. Keep the hits coming in 2011.

  6. Alex Kestenbaum from Permission Data, December 16, 2010 at 3:11 p.m.


  7. Lorie Kim from llc, December 16, 2010 at 3:14 p.m.

    Yes continue please. Your candidness is VERY refreshing.

  8. Edward Fisher from Ed Fisher & Co., December 16, 2010 at 3:15 p.m.

    Yes!! I save your remarks because they are so often right on the mark. Keep 'em coming.

  9. Kirby Winfield from Dwellable, December 16, 2010 at 3:17 p.m.

    Yes...and great piece on transparency. Buyers need to demand it.

  10. Robert Rogers from ProExel, December 16, 2010 at 3:37 p.m.


  11. C. Phillipps from Yoohooville, Inc., December 16, 2010 at 3:42 p.m.

    Yes! This is one of the columns I make it a point to read regularly.

    If its getting to be a lot of work for you, by all means, have some guests. But don't go away completely!

  12. Gerald Adler from Scripps-KNS Media Group, December 16, 2010 at 3:45 p.m.

    Yes. You make a good point in this article (as with others).

  13. Fionn Downhill, December 16, 2010 at 3:50 p.m.

    Yes...I often wonder how much the advertisers knows about where their ad impressions will appear because what I see makes no sense whatsoever. Take Rip Off Report for example, the Ads in the middle of the reports are beyond irelevant to the content of the page. Often the Ad is repeated over and over in the irelevant content increasing the risk 10 fold that the ad will be clicked on accidentally. I wonder if there is any research on the conversion rate on these ads. One of our clients used these ads for a special event. A lead from organic SEO cost cents a lead from the ad network $70 how does the advertiser not notice.

  14. Kyle Mccarthy from Family Travel Forum Inc, December 16, 2010 at 4 p.m.

    Yes, I learn something from every column you write. Thanks for the hard work & happy, happy

  15. Neil Squillante from PeerViews Inc., December 16, 2010 at 4:08 p.m.

    Ari, I'm surprised you would leave your future in the hands of anecdotal evidence. Doesn't MediaPost have access to metrics by which they can compare your columns to those of others? Isn't it their call? Or maybe you're just messing with us as an experiment for a future column. Anyway, I vote yes.

  16. Lk Braswell from 241 Ads, December 16, 2010 at 4:15 p.m.

    As always, I enjoy your perspective Ari. Yes, please continue to write....and regarding where the problem arises in this situation, it's likely ignorance on both the seller and the buyer. Just as buyers have hit lists for TV programs where they don't want to run, they likely have the same parameters for online...but because of the nature of online nets, no one is really sure where they're running!

  17. Gary Strauss from Tech Media Network, December 16, 2010 at 4:40 p.m.

    YES ARI must continue to write. Solid column as usual Mr. Rosenberg-better than your tennis game. The clients you mentioned likely are not aware (lack of time, resources) of the fact their brands appeared in areas/content that they would object to. Next step to this column is to perhaps send them a few screens like 60 minutes would :-) And if you need a pinch hitter, should you wish to take a couple of weeks off, to write I am here.

  18. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 16, 2010 at 4:57 p.m.

    It is hard to believe a buyer would not demand to know where the money they spend will land before approval of placement, let alone approval of payment. No post buys in the digital age?

    As for customer cell phone arrogance, your situation is not unusual. Notice how many horns honk because the driver is not paying attention outside of their phone conversation? Right on my corner, I saw a truck mishandle a corner because the driver had one hand on his phone to his ear. Wouldn't it be nice if a little gadget could be installed at the door of a coffee shop, etc., that would clip cell phone calls? OK, then how about a sign - Turn off Cell phone ? Enforcabe - as much as when putting a red light in the middle of sidewalk and people stop. Or maybe one of those coffee pots with a timer so you don't have to do it rushing out?

  19. Noel Chandler from Mosio, December 16, 2010 at 5:10 p.m.

    Keep em coming, Ari! Your viewpoints and ties to real world experiences are always spot on. If you decide not to keep writing, thanks for the past 5 years!

  20. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, December 16, 2010 at 5:25 p.m.

    @Neil -- Peerviews

    I was -- as naive as that sounds -- prepared to step back -- writing this column takes a lot out of me -- it can be awkward at times much like a DJ at a radio station -- and my column last month cost me a friendship -- so I needed some anecdotal reassurance to continue putting forth the effort as long as value registers on the other side.

    @ everyone -- good to hear from you and thank you -- have a happy and healthy New Year -- and can you believe these advertisers ran ads against X rated content!!! -- if I did that as a buyer I would have been fired -- right @ Gary :) -- and feel free to submit a guest column for January.

  21. Renee Mcgivern from Spark Plug Consulting, December 16, 2010 at 5:59 p.m.

    I like your columns. Keep going. Lost friendship is the price of demonstrating courage by putting your opinions out there. You make far more friends than you lose, however. People are hungry for opinions that help us think through the changing Web landscape.

  22. Sue Picard from Stardoll, December 16, 2010 at 6:06 p.m.

    Yes--keep it up! You are one of my favorite writers as you are always spot on!

  23. David Diekmann from Bloomstruck, December 16, 2010 at 6:09 p.m.

    Yes, please keep writing!

  24. Keith Ritter from Keith Ritter Media, December 16, 2010 at 6:10 p.m.

    Yes! Wait - hell yes!

  25. Nancy Padberg from Navigate Boomer Media, December 16, 2010 at 6:12 p.m.

    Thank you for this article, Ad Networks play shell games with advertisers dollars. I see Chicos and Talbot's ads on Mens' sites? Really? We started an online firm 18 months ago that offers complete campaign transparency, premium placement, strategic planning across 125 sites, it can be done, it just takes a little work! Thank you and I vote YES, we need your thinking and voice. Nancy, CEO, Navigate Boomer Media

  26. Kirsten Mcmullen from 4INFO, December 16, 2010 at 6:18 p.m.

    Yes! It's a real issue, and not just with online ad networks. The problem happens in mobile as well.

  27. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 16, 2010 at 7:11 p.m.

    The one person who decided that your opinion was so radically abusive that they chose to unfriend you probably was going to do it anyway not too long in the future. They found a sooner excuse. Meanwhile, you have garnered many friends, associates and respect from your MediaPost buds and readers. So, of course, a demonstrative YES. No only do we enjoy your columns, but there is no replacement for experience and expertise.

  28. Khalid Low from Gotham Direct, Inc, December 17, 2010 at 9:22 a.m.

    There is no question the answer is a resounding YES!

  29. Wendy Hidenrick from AwesomenessTV, December 17, 2010 at 11:17 a.m.


  30. John Reiss from Smarter Travel Media LLC, December 17, 2010 at 12:08 p.m.

    Yes. Yes. Yes. Your column is one of my favorites. My eyes are seeing the ads in your column and contributing to MediaPost's revenue. Thanks for the valuable perspectives you introduce!

  31. Jack Hodgkin, jr. from iEntry Network, December 17, 2010 at 12:55 p.m.

    HECK YES, Ari. Your perspective always resonates well after the read.

  32. Andrew Fischer from Choozle, December 17, 2010 at 5:44 p.m.

    Please keep the great insight coming! Especially in regards to transparency/quality in the online advertising business. Whereas there will always be unsavory intermediaries in this industry, there will be reputable firms that provide efficiency in media buying along with brand safety. RGM Alliance will, for one, continue to fight the good fight and provide a “best of both worlds” solution by fusing the benefits of site-specific advertising with the efficiencies of working with ad networks. Have a great holiday all!

  33. Andrew Fischer from Choozle, December 17, 2010 at 5:45 p.m.

    Please keep the great insight coming! Especially in regards to transparency/quality in the online advertising business. Whereas there will always be unsavory intermediaries in this industry, there will also be reputable firms that provide efficiency in media buying along with brand safety. RGM Alliance will, for one, continue to fight the good fight and provide a “best of both worlds” solution by fusing the benefits of site-specific advertising with the efficiencies of working with ad networks. Have a great holiday all!

  34. Eric Laurence from SAY Media, December 17, 2010 at 6:35 p.m.

    You always keep it real. Well done. Yes to coming back in 2011 and beyond.

  35. Rodney Tanner from OneBrand, December 17, 2010 at 6:41 p.m.

    Oh yes. Good stuff. Keep it coming. Happy Holidays.

  36. Rodney Tanner from OneBrand, December 17, 2010 at 6:42 p.m.

    Oh yes. Good stuff. Keep it coming. Happy Holidays.

  37. Charles Conrad from The Walt Disney Company, December 17, 2010 at 6:55 p.m.

    Yes, yes!! Please keep this great content coming.

  38. Ginger Daughtry from SF Media Resource, December 17, 2010 at 8:42 p.m.

    Yes please

  39. Dave Smith from Voice of reality, December 18, 2010 at 10:36 p.m.

    Your premise is seriously flawed, Ari. I'm sure no ad networks thought DailyMotion would put their clients ads in front of explicit content. DailyMotion should be ashamed.

  40. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, December 19, 2010 at 12:57 p.m.

    Dave - just popped on here and saw your comment. How is my premise seriously flawed? Please explain if you get time to do so.

    I get Dailymotion is to blame of course but my premise is that BUYERS put their client's brands in jeopardy when purchasing through networks -- there are obviously not enough control filters in place and as long as ad networks don't have to show clients where ads run (versus where they can run) this problem will exist -- and I can't imagine the brand managers at Toyota, Ford, and others would be pleased with any of this.

  41. Jatin Baria from Single Point, December 20, 2010 at 1:42 a.m.

    Yes, Ari. Nice, uncomplicated ideas.

  42. Geoffrey Wherrett from Garden Island Consultants, December 20, 2010 at 11:52 a.m.

    Yes, I enjoy the writing.

  43. Jeff Veit from DoubleVerify, December 20, 2010 at 3:08 p.m.

    Yes, keep up the good work and Go Thugs!

  44. John Smith, February 22, 2011 at 3:45 p.m.

    Check-out where many of the ad network scams are listed and explained.

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