I got a real chuckle out of this article in the New York Times called Your Ad Here: Web Surprise Hits '08 Race. Basically the article talks about some unwarranted political ads showing up on sites that political campaigns didn't intend for them to show up on. I'm not going to repeat the examples used in the article because I think they are almost laughable. Laughable because the New York Times does a great job of baiting wanna be online marketing "experts" into commenting on the effectives or lack there of ad networks. To me, it almost seems like a hit job by old media New York Times ripping on the "Wild West" of new media; the underlying tone of the article is see political advertisers you don't have this problem with old media newspaper (a complete waste of advertising dollars unless it is your local community newspaper) or TV.
The article does touch on a few points that are more critical than a few errant ads that were not directly placed by campaigns (please the point of the article is not that Romney ads appeared on Gay.com). The only good points in the article are:
But on the Web, campaigns are also venturing into unruly territory where they risk losing the thing they crave most: control.
But for all the promise of the Web to allow sophisticated microtargeting of messages, it remains to many campaigns a bit of a Wild West where the rules are still being written and politicians by and large are newly arrived settlers.
- and Web advertising sales outlets are not necessarily aware of the unique sensitivities of each presidential campaign.
When any advertiser, political or not, goes to an ad network they are trying to get a broad reach with relatively low priced CPMs. The inventory often provided by ad networks including Google are often sub-premium because to be blunt, if they could have sold them direct for a higher price the site would have. Google for all of the love I give them and they give me back, the inventory often available is most likely unsold with Google AdSense being the ad filler of last resort. When you go to an ad network you give up control of which sites are in the mix, but you can always opt-out of sites; if you knew the actual number of sites we exclude for McCain, you'd be surprised and we add in more every day.
How do ad networks compensate for your loss of control? By bringing the promised land of behavioral targeting and conversion optimization to the mix. With promises of cheap CPMs, huge reach, optimization, and behavioral targeting an ad network is very very promising for any advertiser. However, those promises often fall very short of what a campaign manager would like to have when they see their ads running.
You see in an offline world you have control over where the ads run, which newspaper, what TV show, and maybe even the section of a magazine or newspaper. The ad runs and BAM you don't have "bad placements" like you can on the web. In an online world to have complete control you would have to buy direct on sites and most web teams that I know don't have the bandwidth to do all of those buys or don't want to pay a media agency the right amount of money to manage that type of campaign. Have you ever bought on a ton of sites? Probably not, but I have and for every $5K buy I've done it takes almost as much work to get a $500K buy done.
Finally (some rant I have going here isn't it) the ad networks including Google don't really have a good handle right now on content tone. Sure they can identify consumer generated content, but they don't know how to separate out conservative versus liberal sites and other nuances that political advertisers would want controlled. I actually have a media recommendation in my hands that lists The Huffington Post and The DailyKos as good sites for a conservative Republican. When I said to them, that's not going to fly they replied back "really, I never would have thought of them that way."
Ad Networks can provide benefits that going direct just can't get you which is mainly huge reach at a fraction of the cost. Unfortunately misplaced ads are going to happen; this post is long enough but maybe this weekend I'll repost a story of how some AT&T One Rate 5 Cent banners appeared in serious porn pages. The internet is still growing, but unlike newspaper, TV, and radio ads at least we can track the results to see what works and doesn't work. At the end of the day, it matters whether your online campaigns deliver your results or not; you cut the bad stuff away and move on.