Why does ad tech advertise on piracy sites?

When advertisers purchase media from exchanges, they can never be exactly sure where their ads will show up. But it seems even the companies selling programmatic buying technology have the same problem.

Ads for demand-side platforms, ad exchange companies and other ad technology providers are regularly served on websites that facilitate piracy or feature otherwise questionable content.

vipboxopenxThis week, for example, display ads for MediaMath, OpenX, The Trade Desk and TapSense were repeatedly served on Sweden-based vipboxus.co, which offers free access to online streams of paid TV channels from around the world and monetizes them with ads. It’s a similar story on Cuevana.tv, on which ads for both MediaMath and Trade Desk were served.

The question is: Do those companies’ ads show up on that type of site because they can’t stop them? Or do they simply ignore the fact because they’re a great source of cheap, effective media? Either way, it’s not a great look. If they are unable to stop the ads, that doesn’t give advertisers much comfort. And if they don’t care, well, publishers are a bit less cavalier when it comes down to misappropriation of intellectual property.

According to MediaMath, it’s the former. “We do take these matters very seriously. We currently have in place a number of internal and external protocols to protect against these types of situations,” said the company’s head of marketing, Rachel Meranus. “In addition to these preventive measures, MediaMath acts promptly when situations like this one are brought to our attention. This site, in particular, has now been added to our global block list,” she added.

vipboxtradedeskMultiple executives at The Trade Desk did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the situation with its own ads.

MediaMath CEO Joe Zawadzki implied it’s difficult for the company to keep track of the sites it is buying ads on. He said ads end up on sites like vipbox because “small bad actors ‘hack’ [exchanges] to get their bad inventory in there,” and added that it’s not a simple case of “bad ad on bad site; somebody is doing something wrong or not enough.”

But ultimately, it is, because perception is important. Many big-brand advertisers are still wary of spending on ad exchanges because of brand-safety issues, and the fact that ads for their vendor partners show up in questionable places is, presumably, far from reassuring. (Incidentally, ads for big brands including Progressive Insurance, StubHub, Philips, Samsung, Zappos and Anthropologie also appeared on vipbox.tv yesterday.)

Ad tech executives continue to refute the fact that exchange-traded inventory does not all come from low-quality, long-tail sites, but a quick visit to a couple of low-quality, long-tail sites can easily suggest otherwise.

That’s not to say there is anything wrong with low-quality, long-tail inventory, of course, if that’s what an advertiser wants to buy. But ad tech companies should be aware that serving their ads on piracy-related sites implies either that they’re happy to associate themselves with that content or that their tech is incapable of stopping it. Neither is a good look.