THE BLOG

Q: Guess Which Brands Fund Criminality? A: Most of Them

16/05/2013 16:07 BST | Updated 08/07/2013 10:12 BST

Think of a brand. Any multinational brand. Then think about how much that brand invests in protecting itself from reputational damage. Surely, with all of this in mind, they would never get involved in funding criminality. Well, in actual fact, many do without even realizing it.

With online advertising campaigns, big brands like Santander or BT are allowing their collateral to be hosted on illegal websites. And each time that happens, brands are putting money in the back pocket of criminals. Now, whilst these sums may be relatively small, the fact remains that advertising spend is funding criminality. I have seen examples of banks appearing on porn sites, or broadband providers appearing on peer-to-peer sites where visitors can illegally download the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

Obviously brands are not doing this on purpose and in the vast majority of cases, will be totally oblivious to it happening. Indeed, even those directly involved in the buying chain for the campaign will have little idea about where their advertising is appearing. Once the initial few rounds of seeding takes place, say on national media sites or big retail sites, then control of the advert becomes harder to manage. Adverts are sent to the enormous internet exchanges and then served to any number of websites. Some illegal.

Basically, as long as the online advertising campaign delivers the numbers set and provides the required return on investment, not too many questions are asked about where those numbers are coming from. However, eventually there will come a point when brands will need to clean up their act. It's only a matter of time before a case occurs whereby a brand is embroiled in a scandal which shows their advertising spend has been helping to support criminality.

Until recently, brands could legitimately say this is just a consequence of the system. As far as they're concerned, they have put in place industry best practices. But technology has developed to the point where brands can now protect themselves online and help ensure they don't end up funding criminality.

Around three percent of advertising online is now appearing on sites which our clients define as inappropriate. This can be due to the content or services, often illegal, that are available. In real terms, that's several hundred million adverts a month going some way to supporting criminality.

So far this practice hasn't led to a prosecution, but should someone, or an organisation, seek compensation for being the victim of a site which has garnered funds from a brand's advertising, then you can imagine how this might play out. The brand may blame its agency, the agency may blame the exchange, and the exchange will then turn around and blame the brand for not controlling its campaign better. Somewhere the loop is going to have to be closed and it's an opportunity for advertising firms to implement services that safeguard against this happening. Just think, if they can go to a brand and virtually guarantee advertising won't appear on illegal sites, whilst a competitor can't, which do you think the brand will choose?