Keeping tabs on Internet ads

Network advertising affords companies the opportunity to have their ads placed throughout the Web. The advantages of network advertising are many. Not only do they provide greater reach, enabling you to purchase ads across many sites with the simplicity of a single buy, but they also deliver lower costs than individual site sponsorships. On the down side, the network advertising process often has ads served across an assortment of Websites without the advertiser knowing exactly where or when his ads will appear. In Washington the prevailing belief is that advertisers need to know exactly where their ads are and whom they’re reaching with marketing messages. In addition, government officials want advertisers to be able to respond if a consumer comes to them with a concern or complaint about a specific ad.

For example, the Federal Trade Commission Act mandates transparency and accountability for the content of all advertising, requiring messaging to be truthful and nondeceptive and to feature only substantiated claims. Transparency and accountability for e-mail marketing were legislated with the 2003 Can-Spam Act, which prohibits false or misleading header information and deceptive subject lines and affords consumers recourse in the form of the ability to opt out.

Moreover, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently issued a consent order against a company that violated the adult-content provisions of the Can-Spam Act. Most interesting in the consent order was the requirement of the advertiser to know where any of its advertising affiliates were sending its ads via e-mail. The Direct Marketing Association believes that this may be a harbinger of where regulators may proceed in terms of network ad placement.

It is not just the FTC that believes marketers should know where their ads are running. Three U.S. senators have written letters to advertising associations asking how their members monitor where their ads are placed on the Internet. Specifically, the senators wanted to determine if marketing executives knew whether or not their company’s ads were placed on adult-content Websites. We believe that the government’s interest in this matter will continue.

So how do you ensure quality, transparency and accountability of your network ad buys? Demanding that your network is in full compliance with federal and state law is definitely the first step. But there is more you can do to protect your interests and the quality and credibility of online marketing as a whole. Here are a few suggestions:

Choose your partners wisely

First and foremost, select your advertising partners very carefully. It’s important to employ due diligence to screen out providers with less-than-stellar credentials. This may mean checking references of prospective vendors thoroughly and asking pointed questions about the company’s work practices.

Research the network’s reach

The easiest way to ensure that your campaigns appear on quality sites with quality inventory is to choose a quality network. Although advertising networks typically cannot provide full site disclosure (in order to avoid competing with their own publishers), advertisers can be confident that top-tier networks will provide top-tier inventory.

Sounds logical, but what defines a top-tier network? Leverage third-party research services, such as comScore Media Metrix and other market research firms, to assess network quality via percentage reach within the top 100 online properties, percentage reach of your target audience, and other key metrics important to your campaigns. This will help ensure that your advertising network reaches your desired audience on high-quality Websites.

Get it in writing

Once you have selected a vendor, always work according to a written agreement. Gone are the days when a simple handshake will suffice to cement important business deals. A contract — or, more specific, a well-developed and highly-detailed written contract — can help protect your company from the dangers of ethical or legal violations and ensure a more effective and successful working relationship. It is the means to provide you with some control over your ad placement.

When developing the terms and conditions of your contract, it is advisable to work with the vendor to devise formulas or guidelines for where and how online ads will be placed. The DMA will be preparing some guidance for contracts. Look for this in the near future.

Invest in the best

Still worried about exactly when and where your ads will appear? The specialized technology offered by some networks can also help alleviate placement concerns. These technologies automatically determine when, where, and which ad to serve based on performance — in real time. This means that any off-target placements that do occur are naturally removed from the placement cycle because they simply don’t perform.

When executed properly, network advertising is an effective and efficient means of communicating your message online. Applying these simple measures is essential to developing more effective marketing programs and better bottom lines.

Remember, it is your company’s brand that is out there on the Web — and on the line — so make sure you protect it. By protecting your brand, you help protect this channel of marketing.

Jerry Cerasale is senior vice president for government affairs for the Direct Marketing Association in Washington.

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