In October, 2014, three associations representing the advertising industry banded together in the United States to launch an initiative to combat advertising that – often inadvertently – ends up on piracy websites. Ads from major brands have appeared on sites that provide unauthorized downloads or streaming of music, movies and television shows, funnelling revenue to the sites’ operators.
The American Association of Advertising Agencies has teamed up with the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Association of National Advertisers to try to combat the problem.
As the buying and selling of digital ads has become more automated, many advertisers have seen less transparency around where their ads are ending up.
Advertisers used to buy ads based on the media environment – choosing to place ads, for example, on a TV show or in a newspaper based upon the assumption that their target audience was likely to see it. Now that they are bidding directly on audiences, the environment in which those ads appear has become less important.
Advertisers still want to appear in what are known as “brand safe” contexts, though. Given the choice, most would not choose to appear on low-quality websites, especially those containing pornographic, violent, hateful or otherwise shady material.
But the speed of ad trading, and the sheer number of middlemen who handle the transaction – from the advertiser all the way to the publisher who places the ad – has made it harder to verify where ads will show up.
Another side of the same problem arises from non-human traffic – sites that use bots to appear as though they have many visitors, tricking advertisers into placing ads on websites with few actual visitors. The piracy crackdown is just part of a larger fight against this kind of wasted money.