On Advertising and the Boston Marathon Tragedy

I like to read recaps of late-night talk show monologues. Craig Ferguson’s really resonated with me ( paraphrased: I’m sick of this shit ).

Then I clicked to this HuffingtonPost article for a recap of Conan O’Brien. It infuriated me. http://huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/16/conan-addresses-boston-marathon-bombing_n_3091426.html?utm_hp_ref=comedy

As I start reading a recap of Conan O’Brien’s monologue, all of the sudden there’s audio coming out of my computer of an incredibly annoying woman talking. WTF?

I’m not watching a video. There’s no ad on the screen. I keep scrolling down several page heights.

And there it is… the Huffington Post has pre-roll video commercials running auto-play as pre-roll to a gallery after the article — more than 2050 pixels down the screen.

This is shitty beyond belief.

* The obvious issue is that I’m hearing an incredibly annoying ad for Dannon yogurt while reading a story about a terrible tragedy. This is not a great moment in content adjacency — this is quite horrible.
* Add the fact that it’s a hidden ad that just started playing , without me triggering anything — and it’s quite offensive.
* This is as horrible a “media buy” as one could imagine.
** Long Pre-Roll ads aren’t a good ad unit. 30 seconds without the ability to skip out is really bad and makes the brand look bad to users.
** Pre-Roll is supposed to be a “premium” ad unit. Selling a premium unit to client — but then delivering it as both an autoplay ad AND on an *incredibly* off screen page element — cheapens the unit beyond worth. This is an antagonistic unit to both the brand and consumer. As a consumer, I had to hunt to look for an ad on the page. As a brand, I pay for impressions and views. AOL/HuffingtonPost created an advertising product that effectively hid the ad unit on screen, keeping people from turning it off — or even actually viewing the ad unit.

Stuff like this doesn’t happen by accident. Having worked in advertising and publishing, some scenarios are the more likely reasons:

* AOL/HuffingtonPost was incredibly shady, and started pumping “premium” ad sales into non-premium units in order to fulfill an inventory order or take advantage of traffic spikes.
* AOL/HuffingtonPost purposefully sold a sub-standard unit to Dannon’s media buying agency, claiming it’s premium inventory.
* AOL/HuffingtonPost and Dannon’s media buying agency colluded to divert a portion of their spend of “premium units” into non-premium units like these.

The least likely scenarios ?

* Dannon’s media buying agency wanted to buy units like this, because they thought it was a great investment for their client.

* This is all just a mistake, and AOL/HuffingtonPost is not greedy or doing anything shady – their technology and advertising teems are just grossly inept.

If I had to choose only one option, I’d guess that AOL/HuffingtonPost is trying to earn extra revenue by hiding “premium” videos on traffic spike ( Boston tragedy related ) pages. Welcome to the wonderful world of online publishing.

I feel sorry for Dannon and am really disgusted by AOL/HuffingtonPost. I can’t seem to figure out who buys digital inventory for Dannon; Havas’ MPG unit ( now Havas ) handled TV media for Dannon as far back as December, but there doesn’t seem to be any mention about online buying.

Attached, a stitched screen…

The blue line is approximately 2050 pixels down the screen; the ad unit is the “embedded gallery” directly below it. The average browser window hight right now is around 750pixels, making that ad unit appear on the 4th page.