How many Russian brides are on your website?

23rd May 2015
Åsa Magnusson

There was a story in the Swedish news recently about an ice hockey supporter who found, in his view, a “highly inappropriate” advert on his local hockey team’s website. Outraged, he took to Twitter to lash out to the team’s web administrators, complete with screenshot of the ad – featuring a pouting, scantily clad young lady advertising an online chat service. The team’s Twitter officials promptly explained that the advert was in fact a targeted message, entirely based on the user’s own previous browser search history. This of course tickled the entire social media world and was re-tweeted far and wide as an epic fail.

While this is quite an entertaining story, it does raise a few issues around dynamic content and ad optimisation online. Dynamic adverts can be an attractive option for sites wishing to earn money from referral traffic. After all, the user is much more likely to click on an advert for something they have already expressed an interest in, so the click-throughs generate more cash for the website. However, as demonstrated in the aforementioned example, the website itself does run a risk of becoming associated with the ad content displayed. In some cases, this ad content could have been detrimental to the message of the website itself.

What if the website had been an anorexia awareness community? Or a sex addiction support page?

Often brands spend a great deal of time considering how their messaging and imagery can be interpreted by their target audience. Their affiliations and context, however, may get less attention. The brand could be displayed within directories, on syndication websites, in sponsored newsletters and much more – sometimes next to brands or names of a questionable reputation. If you are involved in managing your brand presence online (or offline too, for that matter), this should never be allowed to be a surprise. Demand clarification from your various advertising and sponsorship partners on where your brand will be displayed and how it will come across to the user.

Another interesting example of branding association gone wrong was the 2012 viral photo of what appeared to be a Mongolian dog fighting event sponsored by Heineken. The beer brand quickly denounced the photo, explaining how the event organisers had failed to take down the banners following a promotional event that had taken place the night before. Despite Heineken’s condemnation, the photo is still in circulation by users clamouring for a brand boycott.

As for dynamic advertising, you may want to think twice about whether or not to take the risk of being accidentally associated with something you don’t support. At least on your website, which is pretty much the only place where you can fully control this. (Your social media presence will always be at the mercy of surrounding adverts – but in general, the user public is fully aware that these adverts have nothing to do with you as a business.)

When in doubt, you may consider appointing a “brand detective” to map your brand impression across various channels and report back to you on a regular basis.