Major brands’ ads feature on racist Aboriginal meme page

ghanAds from major Australian brands including Foxtel, Subway, CommBank, Westfield, accountancy firm ITP, Destination NSW, and railway service The Ghan have been appearing on a site which generates racist aboriginal memes. Among the online ad networks serving the ads is Google’s.

memegenerator appears to have been the source of images that populated a controversial Facebook page which last night had its offensive content deleted after generating a national outcry.

The jokes include reference to petrol sniffing, alcohol problems and joblessness among aboriginal people.

Memegenerator, which is registered in the US, allows users to create an image and place text alongside it to create alternative messages on a theme. One if its sections is dedicated to the aboriginal meme.

invite media

Ad served by Google's Invite Media

Ads on the site are served by several online display networks including Google. Some of the ads are served contextually, based on a browser’s previous surfing behaviour elsewhere on the web.

Although brands do not directly choose to advertise on a site, most will only use online ad network which guarantees theywill not be next to risky or offensive content.

Dan Johns, CEO of media agency Ikon Communications, whose clients include CommBank, said in a statement:

“The reality is this space is growing by the day and we need to make sure that we’ve got the best processes, the best tools to ensure that risk is minimised. Ad Networks have long been the focus of criticism for failing to provide advertisers with adequate transparency and brand safety. As with all online advertising, Ikon recognised that it is critical to have a number of steps in place to ensure our online advertising only appears in brand safe environments when utilizing ad networks and exchanges. Ikon have put in place a number of processes to ensure that the risk is minimised at all times. This includes:

“All network buys must provide an upfront site list that is vetted by the Ikon team against set criteria; Partnerships with AdVerfication companies such as AdXpose and Double Verify; Peer39 (for exchange buys) pre-emptive targeting away from text based content that might be detrimental to the brand or campaign.

“By moving towards increased transparency in our online buys, it is Ikon’s aim to make online advertising transparent, safe and accountable. It is our belief that greater levels of transparency, will lead to incremental investment in digital, as the channel becomes more accountable as a brand platform. Any sites not deemed brand safe, are removed from our site lists and the relevant exchange is informed/removed from our buying system.”

A spokesman for Google told Mumbrella: “Google understands that brand protection is, and always has been, critical for the industry and for online marketers. We are laser-focused on creating a safe environment and give ad buyers granular control over the sites to which they target ads – for example they can exclude specific sites, all anonymous sites, categories they do not want to appear on, or they can limit their ads to top 1000 sites. We don’t comment on specific sites, but if a site violates our policies about inappropriate content, whether intentional or not, we take quick action and stop serving ads to that site.”

westfield destination nsw

Destination NSW/ Westfield ad

memegeenrator aboriginal commbank

Intentionally cropped by Mumbrella

Facebook continues to decline to comment.


  1. Seahorses
    9 Aug 12
    11:26 am

  2. Various advertisers also appear on porn sites and various other sites that Mumbrella may deem offensive – it’s the nature of internet advertising much of the time. Two days ago, Meme generator was a website to capture a large young audience, today it’s a website that Mumbrella deems offensive – it’s difficult to control.

    Plus Meme generator is about playing up to dumb stereotypes, it’s part of the (limited) humour of it all – some may find it offensive, yes, but it’s not illegal and is not particularly offensive, it’s the same stuff you overhear in dodgy pubs across the country.
    But if you are going to (pointlessly) report on this, then get reporting on these equally “offensive” pages and see what advertisers feature on them!

    Or, you know, you could not waste your time on this.

  3. Matt
    9 Aug 12
    1:16 pm

  4. I’m sure the world’s penguin populations are offended by the Socially Awkward Penguin Meme too

  5. Mac
    9 Aug 12
    2:38 pm

  6. Your article is wrong. The website does *NOT* generate racist aboriginal memes. It is a meme generation site – just like Google Docs is a document generation site.

    Do racists use Google Docs generating racist hate? I’m sure they do.

    Considering that seems to mainly republish stuff they found on & – it seems a bit cheeky for them to complain about what seems to be half the content of reddit ….


  7. Con Frantzeskos
    9 Aug 12
    4:40 pm

  8. Nice try at writing a controversial piece, but I agree with Mac, Matt and Seahorses – it’s a meme site, let’s give it a term for journalists who have no understanding of it, such as: “User Generated Comedy”. There are many, many sites of this kind all over the internet, some of them highly respected and supported with advertisements and venture capital money, including the Cheezburger Network and Reddit.

    Like all Comedy, some is poor, some is racist, some is anti-racist. Almost every meme on this site is an attempt at satire – and as such, can and might cross the boundaries. 99% of it is relatively innocent and much funnier than the product of most creative departments.

    To suggest that it’s improper to advertise on them because some of the humour goes over the line? Move along, nothing to see here…

  9. joking Aside
    9 Aug 12
    6:35 pm

  10. I will back Mumbrella here for pointing out that leading brands are affiliating themselves with racism online. I think that point is definitely worthy of focus.

    Indeed I would hazard a guess, that many of the agencies and marketing teams for these brands were not aware that their advertisement was being featured on pages such as these.

    Whether meme sites should be allowed to generate racist content (I am not going to attempt to answer that.) Should agencies and marketing teams have tighter controls and be far more stringent on where their brand is viewed online? You betcha!

    Fragmented digital media can evidently be hard to control.

    If Commbank or Subway took out an advert in a print magazine, which featured offensive racial cartoons, published by a far right organisation and not affiliated with any publishing standards – I am sure there would be an “inquiry”.

  11. We do you stand..
    10 Aug 12
    1:58 pm

  12. Pointing out what other websites have socially unacceptable and offensive content does not cut it for me. As for comparing racist material to ‘Socially Awkward Penguin Meme’, well , for that I have no words.

    It comes down to where you stand on the content as a person and as an advertiser you need to ensure your brand can not be associated with such content. It’s not easy but neither is it difficult, as digital media becomes a larger part of the mix, advertisers have to demand that their standards are met.

  13. gqwgjzub
    10 Aug 12
    2:18 pm

  14. The part that’s missing here is that many of these ads were likely not explicitly targeted at (let alone this particular page) but rather they were targeted at the author of this article.

    This is were things are different to a controversial magazine placement. The magazine looks the same to all readers – online ads however vary wildly subject to who the visitor is. In my opinion, the association here was not with the content of the site but rather with the author (including his debatable appetite for inappropriate memes).

  15. Joking Aside
    10 Aug 12
    3:14 pm

  16. @gqwgzub

    Good point sir. Cookies and display that follows you around. Nevertheless brands will still not be happy being associated with sites like these and I am sure that targeted display ad’s can be pulled from the meme generator sites, whether that be Google’s job to flick the switch, somebody will have to I guess?

  17. Anon
    14 Aug 12
    11:58 am

  18. This is a user generator site that offers a service of putting pictures with words.

    You will find content that does not align with your brand on all UGC (which includes social media), why hasn’t anyone pointed out the large sums of racist/bigoted comments left on Youtube video comment sections?

    I don’t see advertisers or ad-media going nuts/writing articles over pre-roll or display ads being featured on Youtube?

  19. Joking Aside
    14 Aug 12
    12:14 pm

  20. @Anon comment 9.

    YouTube pages have definitely been referenced on here in the comments before (not this thread.)

    People were mentioning how YouTube needs to take a stand. Imagine having racist profanities in the comment fields of SMH; they wouldn’t – why should YouTube?

    I cant find the thread from before?