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Duncan Trigg Headshot

The Continuing Online Advertising #Fail

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The Oscar Pistorius case has shocked the world. An athlete who has inspired millions has been spectacularly knocked from his pedestal. The extraordinary nature of the story is only heightened by the fact that he is the third high profile athlete who has been embroiled in scandal whilst fronting multi-million pound campaigns for Nike. Following Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong, Nike has been reeling from being associated with the wrong messages. From 'Just Do It' to 'Just Don't.'

It's certainly not going to be easy for Nike to distance themselves from Pistorius. And they won't be helped by having Nike adverts appear next to editorial stories of brand ambassadors caught up in all sorts of trouble. But this is going on every single day in markets across the world. Due to the nature of online advertising, once an advert is sent out from the original advertiser, they basically give up their control of where the content lands.

And it's not just Nike that's suffered from this. With the glut of horsemeat stories, certain supermarket adverts have continued to appear alongside stories detailing how the meat they are trying to promote may actually contain horse meat. It's probably not going to inspire many to buy a burger, and it's very likely to turn the consumer off the brand that's been compromised. Just imagine a traditional media buyer securing a slot in a national newspaper next to a negative story about the brand they're advertising. It would be a complete disaster and would likely lead to the media buyer being sent packing. But the same rules don't currently apply online.

The reason for this is that online advertising is all about numbers. How many people are going to see your advert, and how much of that will turn into sales. The global advertising industry is worth $438bn, with online adverts forming the fastest growing part of the market. It stands to reason that the websites with the most visitors can charge the highest price for adverts. Typically these are national publications. National publications running breaking news stories such as the Pistorius case. Advertisers naturally enough place more adverts here to get the numbers they need and don't stop to think about the possible ramifications. Quantity not quality is king in the online advertising world.

You'd think advertisers could control where their adverts get placed, but that's not currently true. Once an advert is sent out from the database, it's difficult to fully track where it appears. For example, a broadband provider can plot where its advertising appears originally. Key websites, social media, etc. But after that initial stage, the collateral is then served via the database to any number of other websites. A broadband provider promoting speeds on a peer-to-peer site? Seems bizarre, but that's exactly what's happening.

Because online advertising has exploded, it's clear that some key processes have been left by the wayside. But gradually more and more strategy is being adopted to put an end to compromising situations and bring some structure.

Using verification tools - think of them as digital pasta strainers - they can sieve through the enormous networks and block out sites if the advertiser doesn't want to appear on them. This can be done on a predetermined basis or reactive.

In the case of Pistorius, if Nike were using these tools, it means they could ensure their advertising didn't appear next to a negative story about one of their biggest ambassadors. As consumers get more and more savvy about their purchasing habits, it won't be long until brands wake up to these options and start taking the same targeted advertising approach they do offline in the online market.