Swine Flu and the Case of the Contextual Ad

Josh GordonWe post a great deal about behavioral targeting on the Lunch Pail under a variety of different, distinguishing banners. There’s network behavioral targeting, onsite behavioral targeting, affiliate networks, relevant content serving, and contextual digital advertising.
Contextual digital advertising relies on (so-called) business intelligence to think about and serve up the best ad for the viewer based on the context of the browsing environment, the other content on a page, past online behavior, and a whole host of other data points (depending on the sophistication of the ad recommendation tool). Theoretically, it all sounds fantastic. Theoretically. But, when it doesn’t work properly, it can create a bit of a PR problem.

Take, for example, the recent contextual display ad from White Castle on The Jerusalem Post’s homepage. (Kudos to Ad Age for catching this first).

What is the hottest topic right now in the news? Swine flu. It’s easy to verify by checking Twitter’s most searched, Google’s, Yahoo’s – wherever you browse on the Internet for the last two weeks you’ll see some content about Swine Flu (including, apparently, here).

So, it’s easy to understand how the affiliate network – recognizing the context of the keyword “swine” – would display the pulled pork sandwich creative on the Jerusalem Post’s website.

This case reinforces the need for due diligence and double-checking the types of websites that are included in a contextual ad buy on an affiliate network. If you’re selling meat, for example, you should avoid animal rights websites, religious websites, etc. That is something that Zimmerman, White Castle’s agency, is now doing double-time. It’s easy to avoid the bad PR (and Leno’s “Headlines” segment), it just takes extra due diligence.

It also reinforces the relative safety of deploying onsite targeting strategies solely on the homepage. Onsite targeting preserves the ability to be relevant while neutralizing the possibility of bad context.

Does anyone else have some funny contextual ad mishaps to share?

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