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The Pitfalls of Run-of-Site Buys

ROS(Run-of-site) ad placements can be hard for interactive marketers to resist. Offered by most site publishers, these buys are widely available and provide access to a broad audience of Internet users. Because they usually involve remnant site inventory, they’re also highly cost effective and can stretch an online ad budget far beyond expected means. All of this has led ROS buys to become a mainstay of many online ad campaigns.
If you think ROS is a risk-free advertising option, however, think again.
Last week, the New York Post ran a lead news story about the terrible sexual assault and murder of a female graduate student. The article appeared on its Web site as well. As reported “in an online marketing publication the next day”:, the story was accompanied online by the most inappropriate ad imaginable: a banner for online dating service that featured a woman who bore an uncanny resemblance to the murder victim.
According to reports, the ad had been on a run-of-site rotation.

This isn’t the first instance of ROS gone wrong. When the U.S. automotive industry was struggling last year, ads for a GM Red Tag dealership sale appeared alongside articles about GM job cuts. Ford experienced a similar situation. Needless to say, the branding effect left something to be desired.
With ROS buys, one always runs the risk of having ads appear next to undesirable or inappropriate site content. That’s one of the reasons “contextual advertising”: has become so popular in recent years. The solution isn’t too eschew ROS, however, but to ensure such situations are avoided.
The onus lies on both the publisher and advertising agency to do this. At “Enlighten”:, the agency with which I work, for example, we make a point of monitoring our clients’ ROS buys, and ensuring that our inventory vendors do the same. It’s never possible to keep tabs on every ad placement in this manner. But employing multiple site watchdogs can greatly reduce the risks associated with this still-valuable method of online advertising.