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I’m sure you’ve seen this in the past — you’re looking at something online and right next to it is an inappropriate advertisement.

Such is what happened Monday in the New York Post.  The Post, which apparently contracts with aQuantive to sell its online advertising inventory, ran the story of the sexual assault and murder of college student Immette St. Guillen.  Unfortunately, in the story online was an advertisement for, which according to Mediapost:

“…in an especially bizarre coincidence, the creative, which carried the tagline “Get Soaked By Love,” featured a young dark-haired woman who physically resembled St. Guillen, staring suggestively at the camera.

…Not all visitors to the site Tuesday were shown the ad. DrivePM used its cookie-based behavioral targeting technology to display the ads to users who met certain criteria. The ad also appeared to be frequency capped, so that the same visitor didn’t receive that ad every time the page loaded. By Tuesday evening, DrivePM had made arrangements to remove the ad from its rotation on the Post’s site.” was not happy about this:, which bills itself as an especially safe dating service because it screens all members for a criminal history, said it would not have approved of having an ad accompany this particular story.

“If you’re going to talk about online dating, you just wouldn’t want to associate with someone being raped and murdered,” said Cornell McGee, senior vice president, acquisition marketing at “You’d think that would be common sense.” had only been using aQuantive’s DrivePM to place ads for about three weeks, McGee said. He added that would develop a policy to prevent ads from being displayed in stories it considers inappropriate.

MediaPost article link here.

It is a problem with third party ad networks — how do they screen sites and contents to match their advertising?  It’s easy in the print world, because when a newspaper or magazine goes for layout, the content can be made compatible with the advertising (and ad buyers can choose the actual vehicles to advertise in, so that they can match their audience to their product). 

Ben Edelman has written about this problem in the adware space, where children were being exposed to advertising for adware.    

This is a big reason why third party ad networks like tracking cookies — it gives them some way to infer demographics and tastes and hence, display advertising that attempts to match the behavioral characteristics of the viewer (for example, an advertisers can infer that someone who goes to a lot of NASCAR sites might be interested in Ford trucks or Budweiser beer).   However, it’s imperfect because a) many people hate cookies and b) there are privacy concerns and c) it is a actually a fairly sloppy way to gauge demographics.

Enter companies like Claria, who promise much better behavioral based advertising with BehaviorLink, a third party ad network that apparently melds adware with advertising on site pages.  That doesn’t seem to make much sense either from a privacy standoint.

In order to truly allay privacy concerns and insure compatibility of the advertising message with content, it’s going to require a lot of manual labor.  In this era of automation, that’s going to be a challenging task for ad networks who want to make automation work for them.



Alex Eckelberry


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