Run of Site, A Cautionary Tale

Not long ago I was browsing the web during lunch for my daily news fix. I saw a headline about a bombing at a Brussels railway station and being concerned, wanted to learn more about the developing story. After reading the article and feeling relief that the bombing was a failed attempt and the situation was more or less over with the suspect in custody, I turned back to the above-the-fold advertisement.

example of failed run of site ad

See the disconnect?


Above the headline, “Suspected suicide bomber shot at Brussels railway station,” was an advertisement for flowy, spring shifts with FREE SHIPPING. The cute dresses juxtaposed against a developing terror incident felt vapid and nauseating.

Advertising fail!!! Who could possibly think it was a good idea to run a fashion ad next to a terrorism story? No one. I assure you that no one thought, “this seems like a super place to feature this ad.” Mistakes happen, but this one at least did not happen intentionally.

So who’s to blame for this face palm? The answer is not who, but what. This mishap was undoubtedly caused by something called run of site advertising.

In run of site advertising, an advertisement can appear anywhere within the targeted website (or print publication). It’s a cheaper ad placement for the advertiser and allows the publisher flexibility with ad placement. On a website, most run of site ads are simply served up in a queue by a computer without any human quality control.

Do I fault the BBC, the publisher? No. In fact, with the dwindling numbers of people willing to pay for quality journalism, news organizations are simply taking whatever advertisers they can get. That puts the onus on the advertiser.

If you are an advertiser considering run of site, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my product or service for mature audiences only? (lingerie, alcohol, etc.)
  • Is my product or service inappropriate for certain audiences? (For instance; pork products and Jewish or Muslim viewership)
  • Are there situations where the advertising of my product or service would be offensive or inappropriate? (The example at hand is case in point.)
  • Are there pages on the site in question could turn off potential customers? (obituaries, personals)

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then run of site may not be for you. Or, try run of site on a website that won’t run conflicting content. In this case, Martha Stewart or Epicurious would be safe bets. It’s worth it to pay more for a specific placement or specialty audience than risk a blooper.

As Bill Bernback notes, “Nobody counts the number of ads you run; they just remember the impression you make.” So, be sure to make it a good one.

Elizabeth Barry is the owner and CEO of Stem to Stern Marketing. She aspires to make her blog posts informative, helpful, and occasionally humorous.

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