Why Flexibility in Ad Networks Must Be Part of the Conversation

Advertising billboards in Times Square.Advertising billboards in Times Square.Ad billboardAdvertising billboards in Times Square.

Vintage hat advertisement.

A vintage advertisement, presumably targeting an appropriate audience.

Running a site reliant upon ad networks can be full of surprises. At a previous position, one of my duties was to assure that the site, a food publication, was not serving inappropriate advertisements that would turn off our audience and clientele. If someone came to read an article on wine pairings for the holidays, it was almost certain that one of our spots earmarked for the ad server would slot in an ad for addiction treatment centers. It was then my job to root out the source of the ad, which wasn’t always easy to find. Flash ads were pretty good at hiding their origins at times. If I was able to find the source, I would manually block it. That would never be the end of it, and the cycle would require repeating whenever we published any content involving alcohol.

The Guardian is having trouble with ads being served in support of the National Rifle Association (NRA). These ads sneak in due to both insufficient blocking tools, and the ads themselves being designed to show items like membership duffel bags instead of guns, thereby passing initial filters. Yet these demonstrate how hard it can be to have control over the advertising your site displays. Having someone be on top of this is one way to do it, but it can be tedious work, and you can’t endlessly refresh your own site’s pages, serving more ads, so you have to check in measured amounts, making these inappropriate ads easy to miss for a while.

For our food website, things we didn’t want to serve to our readers were rehab ads, diet ads (including those “one weird trick” scams), weight loss programs, political ads, medical advertisements, and other things that didn’t veer into the unappetizing or assumptions about someone’s ability to drink responsibly. In order to make us more attractive to other, outside ad clients, pairing rehab ads with wine articles wasn’t going to cut it.

When an ad server gives minimal customization options (as is my experience handling ad placement split between networked ads and independent ones), these slips are going to be common. Networked ads are cheap and, unfortunately, that puts the power in the hands of the advertisers, not the site management or the audience.

There is constant discussion about the present and future of web advertising, ad blocking, and the migration of many to mobile devices. Yet, as the trouble even The Guardian has keeping gun ads off of its site, shows, the power continues to sit in the hands of the advertisers. Greater web media is still figuring out ways to adapt to various aspects of the modern web, but this lack of control over how we can serve our audiences has not changed in some time. Ways to let ad networks serve both advertisers and media should be an integral part of the conversation.

Sony’s Marketing Dept. Gets it Right in PS3 Ad

At the gym last night, I settled onto the elliptical with a magazine from the community rack. I’m not a regular People Magazine reader, but as I was flipping through this issue from late September, I saw a PS3 ad. The ad features a teen boy who looks to be enjoying himself and a middle-aged woman as his mother next to him, also looking to be enjoying herself. Both had controllers in their hands and looked to be having fun playing.

The tagline that accompanied the ad referred to the recent price drop but also served to be really inclusive. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the exact content, but I believe it was something about the PS3 being at a price that suits everyone.

People‘s demographics skew very female, and range through various age groups, so this was a pleasant surprise. To see gaming not only marketed as something women of any age do, but without the usual attention being called to her as a female playing games. (See the PSP’s recent lavender release with its ill-considered “Girlz Play Too!” tagline and obvious lineup of Hannah Montana and other similar games). Surely there would be some sort of division in the games, right?

Nope. The game selection at the bottom wasn’t even divided into obvious gender targets like so many other ads are. The games were titles like Batman: Arkham Asylum and others. Not a puzzle game or fitness coaching game in sight.

Even though that lavender PSP stuff is still fresh in our minds, kudos to Sony’s marketing department for this great ad!

An interesting debate about the new “Game Fuel” ad

I meant to write about this earlier, but someone opened up an interesting debate over at the girl_gamers community over at LiveJournal. She asked a few questions about the ad currently running for Pepsi's Halo 3 marketing tie-in soda, Mountain Dew Game Fuel. I have tried the soda. It tastes like liquid gummy bears. I will also
be getting to Halo 3 at some point. Obviously, I'm within the customer
base for both products.

Personally, I think the ad would have been great if there were a female at the end, but I think it works just fine with a male there. Hey, at least it's sort of ethnically and racially diverse. Admittedly, many people would have found the ad gimmicky if the end showed a female beating all those other male players. I don't think that's deserved, but it would have been how many people would have perceived it.

I do think that the agency really made a mistake in not including any portrayals of any female gamers, however. I'm aware that the console market is overwhelmingly male, but we're far from nonexistent, and it would have been a nice nod. Instead, we're treated to stereotypes like a guy playing while his apparent girlfriend reads on the bed in the background and a guy playing while what looks like his mom is in the background putting something on the kitchen table.

In other words, we're in the background, uninterested, and definitely not active players, as portrayed in this ad. It's sad that putting a female in that role in the end would have been seen as gimmicky and as a potential joke, but I doubt the bottom line would have been hurt had a female been included amongst the frustrated gamers in the ad. In other words, if we'd been shown as involved and not as merely background set pieces.