Probelms with Contextual Advertising

Google, Yahoo! and others offer advertising services that can pluck words from a web page to create customized advertisements. Contextual Advertising as its called, is a really cool feature but there are some potential problems that companies considering online advertising campaigns should consider.

1. They can make you look bad.

See this Business Insider story about the worst Google Ads ever. The ad in question appeared with a news story about terrorists and offered a Terrorist Certification program. Probably not what the advertiser had in mind. I hope. This isn’t necessarily a legal problem, but it can be embarrassing and costly to correct. If you are using an algorithm to create your ads, you need to be aware of what that algorithm could create as output.

2. It could violate privacy laws

AOL was recently sued for its contextual advertising program because it was allegedly gathering private information in order to better target the ads. Many times the information gathered by these services are not tied back to any one particular user, but it is something to be aware of. Wired magazine recently ran an article about how easy it becomes to identify someone just by collecting a few facts. Zip code, employer, car model. . . none of these would identify you by themselves, but put a few of them together and very quickly you can have an individual identified.

3. It could be trademark infringement

Keyword based advertising is big business for search engines like Yahoo! and Google. Its also been a hot topic in trademark law. If you select a trademark to trigger your advertising, you could be infringing. Its even more certain that you would be infringing if you have that trademark appear in the text of your ad. Just about any word could be a trademark so context is important.

4. It could be false advertising

False advertising laws vary from state to state but can include anything that creates a misunderstanding with a consumer. If your ads are designed to grab words from web pages be sure you offer goods or services that you are now claiming to offer.

Contextual Advertising is a powerful tool and I think we will see much more of it rather than less. But like any powerful tool it should be handled carefully.