If your ad gets the sale, does it matter where it’s shown?

It’s the online marketers’ dilemma.

Your display ads are part of a remarketing or programmatic campaign. And they’re getting good results — meeting target KPIs, with online revenues that much higher than you were getting last year.

All that good stuff.

But you find your ads are being shown alongside content that, by association, could be harming your brand.

If you’re only concerned with performance data, you’d carry on regardless. But if you’re concerned about brand image, you want to make sure there’s some sites and pages where your ads will never appear.

That’s been the case recently for some major YouTube advertisers who’ve paused campaigns until Google addresses brand safety issues to their satisfaction. While many big advertisers remain, those hitting the pause button include AT&T, Verizon, Walmart, Johnson & Johnson, Pepsi, Nestlé, Starbucks, the Royal Bank of Scotland, the UK Government, ITV and Renault.

But do consumers really care where your ads appear? Well it appears they probably do, if you believe the results of a recent survey of nearly 2,300 US adults.


Last month, YouGov, a non-partisan internet polling company, surveyed a “nationally representative sample” of US adults and found that nearly half (47%) said they viewed a brand more negatively when seeing its ads placed alongside offensive content.

Most respondents (54%) had seen examples of racist and sexist content at least once a week and as much as every day.

What’s more, 30% said that when they see an ad alongside offensive content, they believe the advertiser is endorsing that content.


Older respondents were more likely to damn a brand by association. Some 35% of those aged 55 and above thought the advertiser was endorsing the content.

While YouGov’s sample group represented less than 0.001% of the US adult population, a similar online poll commissioned by AdWeek and conducted by Survata returned comparable findings.

Survata polled 502 regular YouTube viewers. The results: 36% viewed ads as endorsements by brands; 41% viewed a brand more negatively when its ads showed alongside offensive content.

Why should you care?

When we run Google Display Network campaigns for our clients, we opt out of a number of types of sites, and explicitly exclude others.

This includes remarketing campaigns, even though we are really targeting an audience and not choosing the sites they like to visit.

We also typically exclude parked domains, though some of them can produce great returns (as SEMCopilot’s Ted Ives notes in a recent article for Search Engine Land).

Top performing parked domains in the Google Display Network are usually those websites with a URL that is a common misspelling of or slight variation on a brand name. These sites show Google AdSense ads that offer a quick way for visitors to speed along to the site they really wanted to get to.

The catch is that the ads shown on parked domains aren’t usually for lower-cost brand keywords. No, the cost of getting these lost visitors over to your website is often considerably higher, because ads are shown for more competitive generic terms (alongside ads for your competitors).

You pay Google more. And Google pays the website owner more.

Before March 2008, if you were running a Google Display Network campaign there was no way to make sure your ads were not shown on parked domains, and Google didn’t let advertisers know that’s where their ads might be displayed.

Which is why Google recently notified 2.3 million advertisers that they can claim their share of a $22.5 million payment, the agreed settlement in a Californian class action law suit.

The suit alleged that Google did not disclose, in violation of Californian state law, that it was placing ads on parked domains and error pages.

The lesson here? Look solely at the metrics and you might be happy with the results, not knowing the context in which your ads were shown, and the potential long-term damage to your brand.

If you attach any value to your brand, however, you should be careful. Low CPCs from certain sites or categories of sites could well indicate lack of competition (because no one else wants to advertise there). And high conversion rates could indicate you are paying more than you should for brand-related search traffic.


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About the Author Jeremy Templer

Jeremy is a Partner and Senior Consultant at SureFire. Jeremy has been working in search since 1996, when he joined the Australian search engine, LookSmart. After relocating to San Francisco, he was instrumental in the development of the company’s paid search ad platform. At analytics company Coremetrics (now owned by IBM) he established an in-house search agency managing campaigns for Coremetrics clients such as Macy’s, Bass Pro and Lands End. At Acxiom he managed members of the pioneering SEO firm Marketleap and worked with clients such as Capital One, American General Finance and Kaiser Health. Joining SureFire in 2009, he is the head of Paid Search Advertising and oversees the delivery of AdWords and other PPC campaigns. He also helps clients make sense of their website data.