As Concerns About Social Media Advertising Escalate, A Potential Solution

August 7, 2007 by Lisa Oshima | Advertising, Social Media

The Financial Times reports today that Central Office of Information (COI), the UK Government’s “center of excellence for marketing and communications,” has put a moratorium on advertising on social media sites like Facebook.   COI organizes marketing campaigns to promote issues of public importance (education, health, welfare, etc.) for various UK Government departments.  The organization announced that it is reviewing how it handles advertising on social networking sites fearing that its ads could appear on innapropriate user generated sites.  Alan Bishop, chief executive of the COI, explained the decision to the FT saying:

“We always have to keep a very close eye on the context. People are still getting to grips with this. We don’t want to exclude the use of any of the new social media but we do have to have a very clear idea of what the context is going to be like.”

COI’s decision comes one week after New Media Age reported that Vodafone, The AA, First Direct, and others were pulling their ads on Facebook because they appeared on the Facebook page of the British National Party, a highly controversial political organization.  Last week, Vodafone released a statement saying:

“We advertise our products and services across a wide range of on and offline publications… In the case of online, bundles of space are purchased across a number of sites including the social networking sites. As a result we were not aware that a Vodafone ad would appear next to a British National Party group on Facebook.

Our Public Policy Principles state that we do not make political donations or support particular party political interests and therefore to avoid misunderstandings we immediately withdrew our adverting as soon as this was brought to our attention.

We are working with our media buyer OMD to ensure that more robust controls are in place before we agree to any potential re-investment,” the statement added.”

The concerns raised by organizations like COI and Vodafone are understandable and highlight the need advertisers to have greater control over when and where their paid ads appear.  As far as I’m aware, thus far, website optimization solutions and content delivery platforms are only helping advertisers and marketers understand visitor behavior, segment visitors into groups, and deliver targeted messages that are relevant to specific segments. I’m not aware of any optimization solutions or content delivery platforms that helping advertisers optimize ads and website content so that they’re not only relevant to various segments of website visitors but that they’re also blocked from appearing on pages that promote or discuss controversial topics.  I’m interested to see who will be the first to make this happen.

Marketers can already test and optimize ads and web content so that relevant messages are delivered to different audiences i.e. (Audience segment A “High value customers” sees Ad #1, Audience segment B “First time visitor” sees Ad #2, etc.).  Similarly, search technology makes it easy to identify controversial key words on web pages (i.e. “BNP,” “Political Party,” etc.). I can’t imagine that it would be too difficult to combine these two technologies to create an ad optimization and delivery network that allows advertisers to deliver blank ads on social media pages that have potentially dubious content, or ‘sublease’ that ad space on controversial social media pages to less discerning advertisers.

Instead of simply segmenting users, the ad publishing optimization solution I’d like to see would also segment content.  The ad delivery platform would scan social media pages at regular intervals for controversial words.  If dubious words or phrases that go against a given advertiser’s rules of engagement appear, the ad slot could display nothing at all or an ad from another, less discriminating advertiser, who subleases the ad space in cases where the primary advertisers chooses to bow out.  Having a solution like this would allow social media platforms like Facebook to offer a two-tiered advertising platform that offers the ultimate control to Tier 1 advertisers who are willing to pay for it and exposure to Tier 2 advertisers with a smaller budget.

Could this work?  Post a comment with your opinion, and if you don’t have a Vox account, email me with your comment, and I’ll post it manually.

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