Recommendations for trading with online ad networks

AN advertising network (also called an online advertising network or ad network) is a dedicated, outsourced advertising sales function for a collection of (often unrelated) online advertising inventories.

The advertising network serves advertisements from its ad server, which responds to a site once a page is called. Large publishers often sell only their remnant inventory through ad networks, whilst smaller publishers often have all of their inventory sold in this manner. There are approximately 42 online advertising networks operating in the UK market.

There are three types of online advertising networks:

Representative networks: They represent the publications in their portfolio, with full transparency for the advertiser about where their ads will run. They typically promote high quality traffic at market prices and are heavily used by brand marketers.

Blind networks: These companies offer low pricing to direct marketers in exchange for those marketers relinquishing control over where their ads will run. Blind networks achieve their low pricing through large bulk buys of typically remnant inventory combined with campaign optimisation and ad targeting technology.

Targeted networks: Sometimes called ‘next generation’ or ‘2.0’ ad networks, these focus on specific targeting technologies such as behavioural or contextual. Targeted networks specialise in using consumer click-stream data to enhance the value of the inventory they purchase. The result is a hybrid between ‘representative’ and ‘blind’ – i.e. the advertiser is buying a targeting, high-quality campaign; however, the technology dictates where the ads appear and, as a result, they are blind.

Why this guidance is being issued

There have been recent examples of UK advertisers unwittingly appearing to UK audiences in association with objectionable material on US websites. The IPA is attempting to establish precisely how this took place; however, initial investigations suggests it relates to a protracted chain in which an unspecified UK sales network or networks have placed ads on resold blind international inventories from other networks.

Agencies need to be particularly vigilant to avoid even extremely limited occurrences negatively impacting their clients’ business and the online ad industry as a whole.


Advertising agencies that purchase media space through intermediary online networks should require, in their contracts, specific warranties and obligations that the company’s advertisements will not be associated with any objectionable content.

Example text for Warranties and Indemnities within Terms & Conditions:

a) The supplier warrants the Company’s Advertisements will not be associated with any objectionable content, including, but not limited to, content that is unlawful, pornographic, obscene or defamatory, likely to cause widespread or serious offence, promotes illegal activities, advocates or endorses discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation or class, and non-censored user generated content that is not subjected to a language filter by the site. The supplier shall be liable to the Company for any direct or indirect claims that may arise as a result of the supplier’s failure to comply with this requirement.

b) Unless specifically stated in the IO (insertion order), the supplier warrants the Company’s Advertisements will not be placed on sites which permit illegal downloading, file sharing or peer-to-peer functions.

When these are breached by mistake or human error, every effort should be made to withdraw the advertising immediately and no fee should be paid to the media owner.

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