Your client gets a well-written e-mail through the customer support address listed on their Web site. The writer is usually a loyal customer, as evidenced by the first two paragraphs of their e-mail, which describes how they've been buying your client's product or service for years and have always been satisfied. And this loyal customer is writing your client to try to understand why they're advertising on a porn site.
Such letters tend to cause major fire drills at online agencies. And they should - there's no reason a client brand should be placed on a site that would more likely detract from the brand than help build it. Usually, the fire drill centers around the media planner reviewing each and every network buy on the plan and trying to figure out which one of them is responsible for the placement.
Many media buyers take precautions to keep their clients' ads off of unapproved Web sites. Network buys often have contractual clauses that forbid unapproved sites or certain types of content. Yet, transgressions still occur. In fact, we spotted some ads recently for certain advertisers who currently aren't clients, running within content that likely doesn't meet their high standards. We sent their marketing people something to let them know about it.
The precautions taken by most agencies to prevent such situations simply aren't enough. In addition to expressly forbidding certain sites and content, a contract should have an associated penalty clause if the buyer truly wants to protect the client's brand. Cancellation of the buy isn't enough - sellers who place ads on hate sites, porn sites, or other content areas that can hurt a client's brand, should not benefit from having served ad impressions in those areas. At a minimum, they should forfeit a percentage of the buy.
Even with a penalty clause that has some teeth to it, like the one described above, transgressions can occur. Even with continuous checks, a buyer cannot observe every ad impression served. But there has to be enough of a risk of getting caught to prompt sellers to think twice before mishandling a client's ads.
We've been working with a couple of organizations that are developing solutions to minimize the risk of client ads appearing in inappropriate places. One of the more promising solutions out there comes from I/PRO, which has developed something called a Network Content Audit that can help.
I think we can agree that this has been a problem for too long. We advertise to enhance our clients' brands, not damage them. Through careful auditing, penalty clauses with serious ramifications for violations, and frequent buy integrity checks, we can solve the problem.
The first step is to support content auditing. I understand a few agencies currently support this, but it's far from an industry standard. If you haven't already, please place your agency's support behind content auditing.