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The 7 Worst Online Ad Placements Of All Time

  • February 9th, 2011

Internet advertising, done correctly, is one of the fastest, most powerful difference making strategies your company can implement. Never before the advent of the world wide web was a company able to sketch up a creative, publish it to an audience, and gain performance data from it all in the same day. Unfortunately, Internet ads take a lot of skill to do correctly, and when mistakes are made they are often quite costly. Forgetting to exclude publishing on certain websites, or overlooking the content of your ad relative to the audience who will see it are egregious errors that can make your brand look pretty foolish the moment you press “go” on your latest campaign. Today we examine 7 of the worst online ad placement blunders of all time, and what likely caused the laughable mistakes.

Medal Of Honor


To help promote the release of the highly anticipated video game Medal Of Honor, EA Games went on a massive advertising campaign that took no prisoners — including infants. It can be hard to tell by looking at the picture, but MSN was not so negligent as to put EA’s ad next to the picture of the baby like that. Instead, this mishap occurred because of EA’s use of expanding media ads (ads which grow and show more information/videos/media when a user hovers their mouse over the banner). Upon mouse over, the originally innocent banner expanded into a soldier aiming an assault rifle toward the center of the page, where there just so happened to be an innocent looking little child in the line of imaginary fire.

Svedka Vodka


Though some may have their suspicions, we can be reasonably sure that the creators of Svedka Vodka did not intend to call Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a robotic woman (or “Fembot,” for short). This mistake, which surely aroused quite a few belly laughs from right-leaning readers, is a shining example of how you can never be sure exactly where your ads will be shown. Svedka’s recent “R U Bot Or Not” campaign has been launched in all manner of media, from billboards to the Internet, including this gem seen above. Of course, it would be foolhardy to expect that the director of advertising could possibly predict every single instance in which their ad will be shown, but does illustrate what can happen when you blast out thousands of ads in every available online slot.

White Castle’s Pulled Pork Sandwich


White Castle’s pulled pork ad campaign is a picture-perfect example of how ignoring demographics in online advertising can be disastrous. Smart marketers want their products to be seen by those who are most likely to buy their products. Jewish readers are not only philosophically opposed to eating pork and other pig-related products, the doctrine of their religion strictly prohibits it. Every single impression White Castle paid for on this website was complete waste. Let this be a lesson to all new Internet advertisers — don’t advertise to “everyone,” advertise to a specific, interested audience.

Grill Like An Expert


Here we see a classic (and downright horrifying) example of contextual targeting gone wrong: an article about a perverse couple grilling their child triggers an advertisement about how to be a better griller. This is a sort of inescapable evil of contextual targeting — the keywords and titles of articles and websites determine which ads belong there. More often than not, the match is appropriate, but every now and then the system makes a shocking error that offends, terrifies, confuses, and everything but sells the reader. Worse yet, the average internet surfer knows nothing about contextual advertising triggers and might assume the company running the ad chose to put it there, making the grilling experts in this example look like sick, insensitive pranksters.

Universal Studios


Some companies choose to lay low when disaster strikes their brand, keep out of the spotlight and distance themselves from the problem. Universal Studios appears to take the opposite approach by proudly standing by their burning studio as it was covered online. Well, either that or this is another example of a contextual advertising mistake. Assuming the latter (as few companies would spend money attracting tourists to a burning attraction), it seems Universal Studios set a contextual trigger for their brand name, and when their studio caught fire and made the news, their ads went live with it.



In order to sell products, advertisers must try not to deeply offend their audience. One can hardly imagine anything more offensive to the Iranian people than a huge banner ad broadcasting the controversial new religion of Scientology. Its possible that this mistake could have come from a contextual trigger, such that the Church of Scientology set all their ads to be shown on sites having to do with “religion,” but this would have been a short-sighted strategy to say the least. Unfortunately for the church, most people reading about the news from their faith are pretty dedicated to their religion, and to imagine that enough people will be converted from the discipline they’ve practiced for years because of a banner ad is naivety at its finest.

Registered Sex Offenders


Finally, some instances of appallingly placed Internet ads happen at random, as is the case with this sex offender database ad coincidentally shown under a Myspace picture of several male friends. Unless Myspace’s contextual system is so talented that it can sense criminal history from uploaded images (and trust us, it isn’t), this is an unfortunate example of an ad that just can’t work in all circumstances. When creating a banner or text ad that will be displayed on a network as diverse as Myspace or Facebook, spending the time necessary to determine exactly where it will be shown will go a long way toward preventing embarrassing wastes of money such as this.