Brands including British Gas, M&S, Center Parcs, Asda and O2 were found to have advertised on what the daily tabloid referred to as "paedo and incest sites," as well as racist pages and others depicting bestiality. While the average consumer might think it's odd that well known companies should be advertising on dodgy sites, the average marketer was probably scanning the list to make sure none of their clients was among the named and shamed.
Then, it probably dawned, these brands weren't only in the dock for inadvertently allowing their creative to be seen on sites they would rather steer clear of, it was a lot worse than that. By allowing their adverts to somehow end up on terrible websites, they were supporting those publishers financially - albeit vicariously and by accident.
Integral Ad Science, which monitors the Web and blocks users' adverts being seen on unacceptable sites, revealed to Marketing magazine that it is shortly to publish findings that suggest these brands are not alone. Its research shows it blocks more than one in ten, or 11%, of ad placements because they would have ended up embarrassing the brand.
For those brands caught up in The Sun investigation, there is a very obvious double-barreled question, and it's one they will need to be put before some very embarrassed media buyers and perhaps even some tech vendors. What protection was in place and why did it fail? If there was no protection in place, then that might lead to an altogether more final discussion with an agency or vendor. If it failed, then there is a discussion to be had around settings.
The main feedback I've received from the market about brand safety is that it is taken very seriously, but media-buying is such a confusing space right now with the rise of programmatic and real-time buying. When deals are done in microseconds across multiple networks through platforms that can be either publisher- or advertiser-focussed, it becomes harder to track where inventory is ultimately going.
Another issue is expense. Adding yet another layer of technology to the media-buying process eats a little more into budget and so some brands or agencies are tempted into not having protection or having just enough to feel they are addressing the issue.
So, it's a very good time to remind digital marketers that the IAB body JICWEBS, which was set up to provide common standards for safe trade in viewable display, has again drawn attention to its list of companies it has verified as being able to help brands avoid ad being misplaced. It previously published a good practice guide to highlight for brands and agencies what needs to be considered to ensure everything has been done to guarantee brands are not embarrassed by where their adverts end up.
Yesterday's story in The Sun wasn't so just embarrassing for the brands concerned, it was a wake-up call for the industry.
Brands and their agencies have to now be very clear on what safety measures they are taking and if the supplier of that brand service is certified by JICWEBS. It's not a cast iron guarantee but it will at least show all that can be done has been done.
Make no mistake, brands are now in the firing line. The Sun will revisit this story and so will many others looking for a headline that will ultimately cause heads to roll. This story is going to remain huge for quite some time and will see casualties if the right measures are not put in place.
It's one thing to be embarrassed by being seen on a "paedo" site, it's quite another to realise that your brand name is financially supporting it and then quite another to not be able to say which of the available remedies you have put in place to ensure it doesn't happen again.