Griffith University blames Google and media agency Ikon after ads appear on piracy sites

Griffith University has said Google and its agency Ikon Communications are at fault after its ads appeared on unlicensed content streaming sites.


In addition to the Australian university, Mumbrella Asia reports other brands appearing on the website included Singtel, Procter & Gamble, POSB Bank and Toyota.

It once again shines a light on programmatic buying and whether media agencies have adequate blacklists for clients.

Last year, Mumbrella revealed how a number of major Australian advertisers had been advertising on websites associated with a piracy site called Watchseries, one of a plethora of global piracy portals funnelling consumers to unlicensed content and making millions of dollars from display advertising in the process.

This time around the brands and their agencies have been running banner ads on sites that unlawfully stream live sports events, torrent site VIP League and, a search engine for links to streamed content.

In a statement Griffith University, which targets potential students in Asia, described the placement of its ads on a sports streaming site as “disappointing”.

The Queensland-based university pointed out that the responsibility for online ad placement lies with its media agency Ikon Communications and also Google, as it uses the internet giant’s ad display network.

In a statement, the university said:

On behalf of Griffith University, Ikon communications agency takes responsibility for the environments in which advertising is placed. All precautions are taken to ensure that the brand remains on reputable websites, and the agency deploys multiple layers of targeting in attempts to prevent occurrences like these. Priority is placed on avoiding unsavoury sites and content above that of buying efficiencies and/or effectiveness.

It is disappointing to learn that, despite the brand safety measures and due diligence deployed as standard, Griffith University’s ad has appeared on this site. The website in question is a part of the Google Display Network and it is the responsibility of Google to ensure the content they run our ads against is legal and brand safe.

Now that this ad placement has been brought to our attention, we have blocked this specific site and engaged with Google to understand how this has occurred and what further technologies will be implemented to avoid this situation taking place in the future.

In response a Google Australia spokesperson said: “We have systems in place to make sure ads show only on websites that meet our policies, and we quickly remove sites that violate these policies.”

Comment has also been sought from Ikon Communications.

Programmatic buying and the appearance of ads on undesirable sites through Google Adwords has occurred previously with a number of major Australian brands caught running ads on a white supremacist website. The ads appeared after the online behemoth’s ad technology systems failed to pick up the error back in April.

In many cases, ads have been placed in several iframes in order to disguise where it was being placed, in a tactic referred to as “adnesting”.

The tactic basically sees a brand buy space on one website but then find it is paying to appear on another, often illegal or unsafe website.

An iframe is a basic building block of web design, and works as a shell which allows a webpage to be embedded inside another website.

Adnesting allows people to mask the true location of where an ad is being served, while for consumers the ad appears to have been legitimately placed.

Click here to read the full Mumbrella Asia story.

Robin Hicks and Nic Christensen 


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